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?
This week's Tinderbox meeting produced some really interesting pieces after a 25 minute free-write with members. We decided to delve into the idea of our first impressions of ourselves - and then we turned it all around and wrote about someone ELSE'S first impression of us. Some of us wrote from the point of view of relatives, friends, pets. Some of us wrote about our very young selves - even birth memories! Some of us wrote from the perspective of mothers filled with hopes for their children. Some wrote about the desires in their adult lives. Some wrote from the point of view of a secondary character of their current fiction project, seeing the main character through fresh eyes. It was FANTASTIC! And I want to share some of this revealing work because we all left feeling so revitalized! And...well...kinda naked.
Vulnerable is good in writing. (tweet that)
In that spirit, I've offered to publish my own, unedited piece here today to give courage to the others who will share their writing with you in the next few days.
This piece is written from the point of view of my maternal grandfather shortly after my premature birth and the loss of my twin sister. It's pretty stark. I cried when I read it for the group. It's amazing how our grief connects us. The experience of putting words to these emotions was powerful, emotions and thoughts I imagine coming from my grandfather that will absolutely make their way into my current fiction. But more than that, they reveal ME to MYSELF. That's the magic of a good prompt to strip us of our excuses and get us unblocked so the EXPRESSION flows and we discover the unique voice we have to bring to the world!
If your creativity is blocked, maybe take a chance on this writing prompt. I'd love to hear how it works for you. ...More things will be revealed!
So, enjoy. But grab a hankie, dude. xo
By Kimberly Brock
Children are supposed to be gifts, but they aren’t supposed to be angels. They aren’t supposed to be saviors. This little girl came into the world, barely a wisp of life, barely breathing, entirely the wrong color, the color of desperation. She is a gasp.
I watch her mother and grandmother wrestle over the death of dreams and they look at this child like she will be a magician. They expect her to open her eyes and see them as they wish they were, not as they are. The need her to suckle and grow on their love, dependent and full of tireless appreciation. They need her to make up for disappointment and death. Instead, she is sickly. She is limp. She is feverish and fitful and uncompromising in her misery. She will not be their joy and they want to shake her until she is compliant.
Instead, she sucks all the air from the room and still struggles to breathe. She gives them weeks with no sleep. She demands more than their grief can provide. She cries. She is weak. She is failing to thrive. They are failing. I watch them wrap her too tightly in soft blankets that overheat her skinny, strange body. They are trying to make her a fat, happy Gerber baby and angry that she can’t make the best of what they have to offer, all their best efforts and she hates them. They are not what she wants and they’re mortified.
She is a lonely thing. She is my own holy trial by fire and the great love of my life. I know because she quiets when I rock her through the night. I pat her bottom til she stops bleating and even as her sweet, warm breath makes my neck sweat, I think she will die, too. I think nothing we have to give will ever fill her up. She is grief. She is a black hole that asks everything and throws our incompetence and guilt back at us. She is greedy and terrible and beautiful in her selfishness.
I wish I could take her, bundle her, get her in my truck, tucked on the seat. We’d drive far from here. We would find the light some place that would warm our blood, away from graves and ice storms and cold women. We would fill our bellies with biscuits and butter and watch crows on wires, talking and cackling. Her first smile was with me. I want to hear her laugh at those crows. I want her to grow up wise as those birds, sharp and slick and black. I want her to fly away from here. I want her to take a deep, deep breath and grow in all directions until she is larger than all of us. Until she won’t fit in that impossibly small hole in the ground.
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 by Tinderbox Society member, Georgia Lee. After our first meeting this week of the Fall workshop series, she offered to share a sublime blog, which is also posted on her own site, Georgia Lee Says. I hope you'll be inspired!
The full moon pulls me outside and I rise or fall, like the obedient tide. Last night, early October, the Hunters or Harvest - each full moon has a name, you know. I don't feel like looking it up, but I'm going with Hunters. It suits my current mood. And Harvest Moon gets too much attention.
I feel sorry for the other moons, unsung by, uh - Neil Young? - prolific Southern Manhater? I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern woman don't need him around, anyhow. If only I'd stuck with my own kind, flawed though they all are, I might not be out on wet grass after midnight, alone. Alone!! With vampire mosquitoes, out for a last taste of blood before we all sink into our winters' underworld.
My friends, I am a hopeless DRAMATIC. My backyard - The Fountain Theater, is an Al Fresco cross between the Globe and the Kit-Kat Club. In its heyday: Drunken Pagan Players; Shakespeare's Bastards; 500 Megahertz Revue and Versailles A'flame drew raving reviews, from teenage vagrants, neighborhood vigilantes and the Dekalb County Police. As founder, I directed, produced and starred in most.
The 2014 Summer Season never made pre-production. Shut down, as death, unemployment, breakdowns, assaults and stalkers plagued the theater, its owners and backers.
Last night, through a rotting patio door, I entered the sad, neglected ruins. Is anything more ominous than a darkened theater? Three rows of burnt out stage lights sagged the stage, where the Italianate eponymous Fountain is a cesspool of disease-carrying vermin. Virginia Creeper and dead mimosas sling long arms over ghosts in empty seats. A breeze carries a whisper of dialogue. Smoke of dry ice slithers through weeds. Sweet, decayed gardenias swill in spilled beer.
Into this wreckage, with lavender candle, three quartz crystals and an I-Pad, I stake my gray yoga mat in the ground. Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" is near silent, drowned by the thriving cicada/cricket stereo.
For thirty minutes, I sit. Breathe in. Breathe out. Only breath. It doesn't hold me, my own breath.
I hear my father's automated coma breath, 120 hours of it as I hold the powerful pulse steadfast - on and on, the wrist. I see my mother two years ago. The last scene calls for grace under pressure - Hemingway, Gary Cooper. Even this will not touch me, within me. She rises above.
These two stars dazzle my life.Comedians. Tragedians. Quick chameleons, as all actors must be.
But...this? Are they capable of portraying the the awe, the grandeur of death? Am I, front row - suspending belief, brought to tears, or not, staying until the curtain drops? They are. I am It's over. The End.
I wait. For them to bound back out onto the stage, take several energetic, role-busting bows, applaud me, the audience, and then, with a jaunty wave, exit. Thank you, goodnight everybody!
I wait, with no script. Out for a drink, discuss the end? No. This was one night only, never repeated never duplicated never forgotten.
Tomorrow tomorrow and tomorrow. Last night. The constant moon is my Mother. She reflects shape and light, forming a mosaic of my broken pieces. Full center stage, or hidden behind scenes, in clouds, over horizons.
Dad is the stars - mystery of dreaming constellations, never judging, receiving all that is undiscovered, our surprising universe.
Lured last night into the dead Fountain Theater, I expected nothing but 30 minutes of the full Hunters Moon. I already knew the setting, the characters and the story.
I did not know the message that came behind it. I did not predict the tears. I do not pretend to understand it now. Am I bringing my own bias to it? Probably. It doesn't matter. The dead, once on this stage with us, are with us still. The sheer curtain is opaque. Life and death are equal and both are illusions, stories - a dream within a dream within a dream. There is no Third Wall.
*Save the date: The all-new, fully-renovated, 2015 Fountain Theater, will kick off its Summer 2015 Season Saturday, June 20 with a Summer Solstice Celebrations. Calling all playwrights, actors, musicians, costume and set designers, creatives, rapscallions, art and even sports enthusiasts. Step into the light - all are welcome. Please RSVP. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
DATE: June 20, 2015 EVENT: Summer Solstice Celebration WHERE: The Fountain Theater, Decatur, GA TIME: 8 p.m. until...(we don't follow Time's Arrow) Rain or Shine.
The Show Must Go On.
Georgia Lee directs Writing Center – former Bureau Chief WWD, contributor to every publication in the known world, yoga guru, psychic, Beatlemaniac, milkshake addict.
tinderbox society blog
Life lived from your Creative Core.