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?
November brings lots of tradition, memory, and emotion with it. Some of us embrace autumn and the coming holiday season and some of us fear it. This guest post is from a blogger I've enjoyed reading and getting to know over the last few weeks on her blog, I MIGHT NEED A NAP, Mama said they make me nicer. When she posted this original poem, I really wanted to share it with you here and she graciously agreed to allow me to post it to the Tinderbox Society Blog. The language is beautiful and poignant. So here's a gift from Tara Joyner Haussler.
Tara would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts on November in the comments.
And so November begins,
pushing the door open gently
and entering, smelling of cinnamon
and cloves and things roasted over the fire,
bringing all of her
stories and memories
and celebrations in with her
The birthdays and the changing leaves
drifting down to the earth that
no longer welcomes bare feet to
wander and scamper about
The magnificent sunsets and
the brisk breezes that bring
out the scarves and hats
and mittens and fires in the hearth
November plays across the days
like a haunting melody,
familiar and comforting,
always known and sometimes sad,
as the days grow darker and the memories
remind us of the Novembers of years gone by
and how different they have become
Comforted by the rhythm of the seasons
I welcome her in
and offer her a place to be
and while I love her and all her colors
some of her stories are hard
and don’t seem to get any easier with the passage of time
Love etched in my heart
our stories intertwined
names etched in stone,
the echo of laughter and
the silence of last breaths,
tears of welcome and tears
of letting go
the tears of remembering
The pages of the calendar will turn
and the days of November will pass
and she will take her leave as
demurely as she came in,
backing out and pulling the door to
And I will close her story
and whisper goodbye
until we meet again
Tara Joyner Haussler is a Georgia girl, a connoisseur of peaches, and a lover of long naps and hot buttered grits. A graduate of Wesleyan College, she is a Mama to the Zoo Crew--one in college and two whom she homeschools and learns from every day. Tara's best memories are of the places that built her--home, Granny's farm, and her Great Aunts' houses. She is a writer who shares the stories of her people--past and present. Her favorite things in life are books, her family, a good cup of coffee, crocheted and knitted blankets she rescues from thrift shops, books, comfy socks, a good pair of blue jeans and boots, listening to folks' stories--and books. Tara has a special place in her heart for those who have no roof over their heads, foster children aging out of the system, and those who need a safe place to grieve. Her dream is to become a superhero with the superpowers to right all of these wrongs. Until then, she continues to share her stories through written and spoken word--in the hopes that we can see how much we have in common, appreciate the beauty in our differences, and just love on each other. In addition to writing, Tara serves as chief cook, bottle washer, teacher, headmaster, artist, laundry folder, and porch sitter. When she grows up, Tara wants to be.....well, she's still working on that. In the mean time, the writing and porch sitting are suiting her just fine.
Find Tara's blog here: http://imightneedanap.com/
Connect with Tara on Facebook, here.
Today's guest post is one of my favorites so far and the author is one of my favorites as well. Paige Crutcher is taking a leap with her writing and this week - TOMORROW!! - her debut novel launches! You can read her fabulous series for Publisher's Weekly here!
And you can pre-order her novel, THE ODYSSEY OF FALLING, here!
I'm so grateful to know her as my friend and honored to share her work with you!
WELCOME, Paige and leave a comment to congratulate her on going for her dreams!!
I’m pretty sure writing, and being creative, have helped me maintain my (somewhat) relative sanity all my life. The thing I know for sure about life is this; it’s mother trucking hard. What the Mamas & the Papas sang – about there being a season for everything – is true, and also only the tip of the slippery/sloppery ice burg.
When you’re a creative being, I believe there are often seasons (like sadness, anxiety, ennui) tucked inside the bigger seasons (like joy, productivity, shiny happy newness), and like one trunked up ice cream cake, the layers can make life feel utterly delicious…or like someone threw together a whole lot of flavors and ended up with a sticky mess.
Sometimes “well-being” feels unattainable. Like it’s a mystical unicorn floating on an island of Skittle-eating ligers. You can dream it up, pour out a handful of Skittles to bribe the animals into submission, but you can’t actually get there. Because there doesn’t exist. Not today.
When I’m feeling broken in this “the world is made of suck and all the curse words imaginable” way, I always turn to story.
There has been research done on the de-stressing properties of reading (which I still don’t entirely get the need for because I’m pretty sure LeVar Burton made it clear decades ago that reading = magic, but whatever) and story is proven to be a relaxant. Less calories than vodka, better for the liver than Xanax, and it has the power to change the very fiber of the reader’s being. Story, man! It’s amazing.
I mean think about it – how often has reading a great book changed who you are? How you think, what you dream, and the limitations you set (or rather release) from yourself. Reading increases my general well-being. Some days it feels like it may well save my life.
Writing, on the other hand, feeds my soul.
It’s a way to linger over moments that are pressed into the fiber of my being like brightly colored patches on a beloved pair of faded blue jeans. Moments like falling in love, discovering hope, having adventure, and being free. Because when I write, the rules are gone. As a rebelliously minded person, being able to craft worlds within words is the most freeing thing I can do.
Creativity is a tool. It helps me dig out from the suffocating amount of anxiety that tries to trick me into doubting myself. It helps me blend the colors of my world from something overwhelming into something beautiful, like when I lift a paintbrush and bring color onto a blank canvas. In the kitchen it lends to harmony as I attempt (and let’s be real, often fail) at baking a new recipe, or throwing together a Mr. Wizard-esque casserole.
I’m a mess, but aren’t we all? As flawed human beings (or rather, spiritual beings attempting to live a human life) we’re so different from one another. We seek to matter, to connect. When I’m at my best, I’m committed to showing up to my yoga mat, to being in conversation with others, encouraging an old friend or hearing a new one’s story.
When I’m struggling the most, I’m in bed watching my twelfth hour of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dawson’s Creek, wondering what addictive substance they put into Baked Cheetos that has me eating the entire large sized bag, while shaming myself over how I’m not eating organic Cheetos, because somehow the preservatives make me feel even more of a failure.
Life. It’s not a game to win at; it’s a journey to undertake.
I think part of being a creative person means feeling emotions strongly. I believe the other side of the coin should be giving yourself permission to experience what you’re going through and not shut it off. To sit in the emotion, and feel what you are going through so you can deal with whatever it is that has you stuck, and then heal as you move forward.
If it matters in a way you can’t shake, then you can go one step further and share your experience, write it into a tale, craft it into a song, paint it onto a canvas.
Because writers write, creatives create, and story is always waiting.
Paige writes, reads, rocks out her yoga mat, reports for Publishers Weekly, and writes YA. She plays well with words and others, and when she's not reporting, she's daydream excessively before putting words on the page. Sometimes they’re jibberish, sometimes they’re honest in a way that makes her feel a little awkweird, but they always come with a message of hope and love.
More often than not, she's got her nose in a book (occasionally while inside her book fort), because inside story is where she knows the magic waits.
But you don’t have to take her word for it.
Learn more about Paige at her website: http://paigecrutcher.com/ Or find her on Facebook here and Twitter here.
Today's guest post for Tinderbox Society is from Rena Blain, a self-proclaimed newborn writer! She joined the 8 week Tinderbox Workshop fall series two weeks ago and...
THIS is her first blog post -- EVER!
I'm so happy to share it here. I hope you'll read and share this sweet story. And leave Rena a comment or two, to welcome her and her voice to the party!
THE COAT RACK
One day Blue Coat had a hole that needed to be patched. She came to Coat Rack and asked if she could hang on the rack’s hook. Coat Rack, being made of strong Oak, said, “Sure, I would love to help.”
As Blue started to hang, Coat Rack thought to herself, “Her hole wasn’t that big and I really want to help people.”
Then came Red Coat, who had a torn sleeve. She asked if Coat Rack knew how to mend it. Coat Rack stated, “Hmmm, I am sure we can figure it out. Hang here while we look at this.”
As Red started to hang, Coat Rack thought, “Whoa, now I can’t see on either side of me. But that’s okay, it’s only temporary.”
In the meanwhile, Yellow Coat, with a broken zipper, came and hung herself upon Coat Rack’s mighty oak arm all on its own.
“Ouch” yelled Coat Rack. “You just scratched and scuffed some of my wood.”
Yellow snapped, “I didn’t mean to.”
Coat Rack felt bad for Yellow so she dismissed the hurt and said, “It’s okay, Yellow. I will help you, anyway.”
Before Coat Rack knew it, Purple Coat arrived. Purple gasped, “Coat Rack, you look full, but I really could use a place to hang. I only need a small mend in my hood.”
Standing up tall like the mighty oak that Coat Rack was made from, she said, “Purple, you have been my dear friend the longest. I would never leave you in a time of need.” So Purple hung on Coat Rack.
As Blue, Red, Yellow, and Purple continued with their hanging, Coat Rack was scuffed, scratched, and could no longer see because each of her arms were full. Over time, the constant added weight made her tired and not feel well. Where she once stood tall, polished, and strong she was now scratched, dingy, and weak. Her legs wobbled a little. One of her posts was loose. But apparently she still looked to be strong and stable to others. Or maybe they just ignored her struggle, because no one offered to help her.
Then one day the Coat Rack said to herself, “I cannot do this anymore. I tried to mend the ones I could. I cried with the ones I couldn’t. But I can no longer support myself, much less these others, too.”
She dropped all the coats.
Coat Rack started to withdraw and stayed to herself. She spoke with others but never really invited them to hang. Then one day, she decided to grab the sander and slowly sanded the dull stain. It hurt at times but she knew it was for the greater good. Once all the dullness was gone and the scratches were mended, she tightened her legs and then her arms. All that was left to do was to apply some varnish to make her nice and shiny.
But then, Red and Blue coat became jealous. Yellow Coat thought she became cold-hearted. Purple Coat was the only one who understood and remained loyal. Coat Rack wished they could understand that she was only one coat rack and could not help everyone. She could help them find the tools necessary to mend their problem but only they could make the actual repair.
Coat Rack could no longer put everyone else above her needs. And so she decided. To remain strong, she would help when she could but would no longer carry the problems of others.
If someone became jealous, she did not let it bother her. They could sand their dullness just like she did. If someone thought she was cold-hearted, she did not let it bother her. They could tighten their legs and arms too. Most of all, Coat Rack assured the coats by her own example that they could apply new stain and varnish to their own parts. Because no one could repair themselves better than they.
Without all that extra weight, she could stand tall and see clearly. Coat Rack remembered the mighty oak at her core and felt renewed and stronger than ever.
Rena Blain is a newborn writer and a native Georgian living just north of Atlanta. Over the years she has expressed her creativity through cross stitch, crocheting, scrapbooking, and quilting. However, she considers her biggest creative accomplishment to be her work helping others through her own practice as a Licensed Massage Therapist. You can find her here: www.southerntranquilmassage.com
Since taking a high school elective in the 80’s called Enjoy Reading, Rena has embraced the creativity and thought process that came with reading and storytelling. Currently, she is practicing writing short stories while also enjoying being a wife and mother. One day she hopes you’ll see her name in print!
What is this Tinderbox Society all about?
JOURNEYS + TIPS
It's a community blog featuring some of the women I've met along the way - and all of the women I am continuing to meet - who are JUST LIKE YOU!
They're moms, grandmothers, teachers, accountants, small business owners, artisans and...
women who've found themselves burnt out or shut up at some point in their lives and they're sharing their journeys and tips about
finding their voice
expressing their passions
and writing their way back to their creative core.
These are their stories. These are their voices. They're daring. Taking risks. Expressing everything inside and inspiring everyone around them.
They're gonna blow your hair back.
Tinderbox Society's FIRST GUEST BLOGGER is Susan Sands.
Susan writes romantic women's fiction and blogs at Sweet Home Alpharetta. I met Susan at an event for another author at Foxtale Book Shoppe (one of my favorite places on earth) and we hit it off talking about kids and writing and writing and kids and how are you finding time to write?? Her post today makes me take a deep breath and find gratitude for one of the toughest lessons for anyone with a plan...waiting. I'm not a very pleasant person when I'm waiting. I'm going to try to be more like Susan!
If Susan's story rings a bell for you, leave a comment for her. Welcome her. Cheer her on!
It's what Tinderbox is all about. Celebrating the truth inside each of us and creating something unique and perfectly flawed.
Tell it, Susan!
My name is Susan Sands, and I’m a failure. Well, not exactly a failure. I’m just not a published author of a full-length novel after seven long years of trying unsuccessfully the old-fashioned way. Seven years ago there wasn’t a new-fashioned way to speak of. So much has evolved in the industry since I began this journey that I’m not even certain what I want anymore from this dream of mine.
Having someone tell me I was good enough, I mean, someone who knew what he or she was talking about was my first goal. My name in print on the cover of a book, by a real publisher, was my true objective starting out. Money? Yeah, I thought I’d get some of that too.
How it all started:
I woke up at forty years old and decided that I wanted to write. Didn’t we all at some point? I bought my first laptop, craft books on fiction writing at my local Barnes and Noble, and then I figured I should attend a first novel writer’s conference way out in California, having no idea how much opportunity to learn I had so close to home. But as fate and luck would have it, there were real live agents in California and one of them wanted my book when it was finished!
She suggested I first join my local chapter of RWA, Georgia Romance Writers, and the national chapter as well. I think I’d gotten online and done that within the first fifteen minutes of meeting her.
I was fifteen thousand words in on my first Southern romantic women’s fiction novel. But having this agent fervently waiting for my book (ha!) spurred me to write like the wind. I finished the book and had it professionally edited. I printed out the three hundred plus pages and sent it to Cali. And waited. Don’t hate me, but that well-respected agent offered me representation on my first submission. I believed I had a gift, y’all!
After some revisions, she shopped my novel through New York City. I waited. No dice. Looking back, I realize now how truly unworthy of publication that first book was. Why did she offer representation? I believe she saw something in me that she thought would eventually bear fruit. But not yet.
I wasn’t mature enough as a writer; my work wasn’t ready, which was a terrible thing. Fact: Sending out unfit material hurts your good name. If you’ve tried to get an agent lately, you realize how hard that can be. I had a tough decision to make. Keeping an agent who wasn’t a good fit vs. taking time to grow and develop my craft, and when I was ready, try and find an agent who was a better fit. It was a tough breakup on my part.
When in the thick of it, we never think we’re not good enough. That bird in hand is very hard to let go. I wrote new books. I won a few contests. I found a new agent. That book didn’t sell either. Again.
Failure. The burning desire and confidence that I could succeed dimmed. The first goal was achieved. Someone did tell me I was good enough. They even offered representation, twice.
There are those who tell us that selling a book is a combination of good writing and storytelling, who you know, hitting the right editor at the right time with the right project, etc. I truly believe it’s mostly fitting a great story with an editor who falls in love with it and connects with the author’s style. If you can get them to read it initially. I still have a few no-responses, which baffles me.
I’ve continued to write, though not with quite the same thrilling anticipation of submitting the next project to my agent. Thankfully, she still represents me, bless her. I’m wiser now, knowing this time could also bring frustration and defeat, but I do remain hopeful. I don’t thing anyone continues writing with the belief that they will ultimately fail.
The true beauty of this journey has been the people I’ve met along the way, both at conferences and through both GRW and RWA. Only other writers understand the nature of rejection and the growth that we undergo, whether we are novices or multi-published best sellers. And there are always more highs and lows waiting around the next corner.
Best to everyone currently on submission with agents and editors. It’s a tough wait!
tinderbox society blog
Life lived from your Creative Core.