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My Tribe

July 19th, 2011 at 10:45 am
Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate


I spent a day with my tribe recently – a group of writers. Many of them were strangers to me, and yet in the company of other authors there’s an immediate nod of brotherhood, a thread of passion that connects us, an understood love of words and of putting them together.

Every person belongs to several tribes. These tribes are people with whom we share blood, or experiences, or the same interests, and we all speak the same jargon. It may be an organized group or simply two or three people with the same obsession, hobby, or similar political, social or spiritual leaning.

We all enjoy being in the company of like-minded people. Quilters learn from other quilters. Painters feed off the energy of others artists. And when two or more writers gather, there’s something in the air, a vibration, a shared and uplifting energy.

For me, hanging out with other authors is like finding a cool spot in July. When one person tells the group about his or her project, a field of possibilities opens for the others. The creative energy from a speaker can start a surge of enthusiasm in your own body – you can feel it rise. There’s an unspoken communication, a communion, a power beyond words.

On a Saturday morning in July, about 20 area writers gathered in the Lumberyard Arts Center in downtown Baldwin City for a retreat sponsored by the Kansas Authors Club. The featured presenter was Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg who spoke on “Finding our Ground: Writing as an emotional, spiritual and artistic practice.”

As she opened, she spoke about the value of coming together as a group. “We need good witnesses,” she said. “That’s what makes our writing better.” 

Mirriam-Goldberg called writing a practice, and compared it to a spiritual practice. “We have to immerse ourselves in a certain amount of mystery,” she said.

As writers, and as creators in any medium, we have an editor, a critic in our heads, and it’s good to be able to tune out that voice, at least in a first draft. “When we get into judgment mode, we stop the flow of anything,” Mirriam-Goldberg said.

With writing, or with any creative activity, flow is everything. It’s about being able to tune into fresh thoughts, the ones that are lingering just outside of our reach. We have to be free of the judgment to let those ideas come through the gate.

I loved listening to Mirriam-Goldberg because she speaks from place of humble confidence. Having worked with words for decades, she knows exactly how to pull in sensory language, metaphors, and meaning and fit them all into a pleasing rhythm.

She said she’s never experienced writer’s block, that when difficulties come with one piece, she’ll simply move on to another project she has in progress. It’s up to each individual, she said, to know when to plow through the resistance, and when to back away. We learn through practice and experience how to untangle our own minds.

And that’s one of the duties of humans, learning how our minds work. Sometimes we charge ahead, try to force things. But there are times when moving forward is actually a process of undoing, of stepping back, of letting go. Release is a way of opening ourselves up to something new.

Mirriam-Goldberg said, “Focus on what your writing wants to be more than what you want it to be.”

She gave us several writing prompts, using the works of Kansas poets Denise Low and William Stafford, and after 10 minutes of pen to paper, we took turns reading aloud our work.

I can sit at home and read essays and poetry all day, but my at-home experience can’t compare to the creative energy that I absorb from being in a room where others are putting words down on paper and then reading their stories aloud to the group.

Inspiration falls like rain when you hang out with your own tribe. We have so much to learn from one another.

Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Lumberyard Arts Center, Baldwin City.

Check out Baldwin City.




columns, small towns, writing

  1. July 19th, 2011 at 11:11 | #1

    Thanks so much for this beautiful and rich write-up of our workshop, Cheryl! You captured what I intended to convey so fully, and it was a pleasure to have you on board. Sending lots of appreciation from one hot spot in Kansas to another!

  2. July 19th, 2011 at 11:20 | #2

    Beautifully put, Cheryl. I absolutely love working with Caryn & can so relate to finding one’s tribe! Isn’t it delicious to be a writer?!

  3. Amy
    July 19th, 2011 at 20:22 | #3

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  4. July 21st, 2011 at 00:01 | #4

    Very much enjoyed this review of the writers’ event, Cheryl. I have much respect for good writing, and have come to realize that clear, rich writing is challenging work.

  5. Susie Nightingale
    July 21st, 2011 at 07:59 | #5

    Thank you for this wonderfully written piece on our District Two writers’ retreat, a first for us as a group. Thanks to the vision and creativity of our chairperson Annola Charity, this event was a success. Caryn and Gordon were topnotch presenters, and all of our participants were engaged in their writing and sharing. We are already making plans for next year’s retreat and will keep everyone posted.