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.
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?
tinderbox society blog
Life lived from your Creative Core.