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dreaming of calamity kim

I told my boss a few weeks ago that I am thinking of a career change. I’m not trying to leverage a raise or anything like that; I want to do something different. I want to pursue something that’s more closely aligned with where my heart is now: writing.

I love my job. It truly is the best job I can imagine, but the thing is I’ve been doing it for going on 8 years, and I’ve been a part of this institution for almost 14 years. I’m ready to do something else somewhere else. I’m ready to focus on my biggest love. Ready to teach creative writing to younger students. Ready to influence students in the way I wish I’d been influenced. And I’m ready to move into a job that will give me the time, space, and momentum to be a better writer, a more consistent writer.

It’s time.

And yet.

It’s a frightening idea. There is, of course, the fear of loss of security. I have a pretty good situation: a decent salary, terrific benefits, and a job that I know isn’t going to go away. So there’s this part of me screaming that it doesn’t make sense to leave.

For a while I thought it’s the fact that 40 is bearing down on me.

I think of all the options out there, all the things I could do. It’s pretty amazing to recognize the possibilities. That I am capable and qualified to do many things. The world feels really big right now.

The other night on the drive home I had this epiphany:  I’ve settled down, my life is secure and still. I have a wonderful love, a good home, a good job, a good set of routines. I am physically and emotially stable. There much rhythm to my life, perhaps too much. I need a little (self-created) chaos.

I need the chaos that creativity brings.

I spent a few (all too short) days at the ocean with my friend Ant a couple weeks ago—our annual writing retreat. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I’d hoped. I mostly blame the weather. It was sunny and clear, and too warm for November. Ant and I craved rain and wind. We wanted to watch the storms come in. Instead we walked the dogs on the quiet beach. It was perfect for reflecting, horrible for writing.

But I did get a few things done, and, more importantly, I came home fired up, ready to write more. I’ve spent more the past two hours in this chair in my favorite coffee shop, working on three haibun I started last year. They’re nearly done. I think.

And now it’s on to the next thing. More writing. Figuring out where this project is going. Polishing some short stories and readying them for submission.

But I need a spark. I need chaos and mess. I need something that will keep me going. I need to be around more writers. I need to be further from administration and management and closer to craft and process and storms. I don’t know if I can sustain this on my own. It’s scary. I’ve started and stopped far too many times. I’ve written about starting and stopping too many times.

So I posted three haibun today, my show of commitment to Acceptance and proof that I’ve been doing something other than poking around on Facebook on this dark, dreary evening. The sky looked heavy earlier. I’m waiting for the storm, for the wind and rain and words to fly wildly, dangerously


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considerations for two lambs

I’ve met two (self proclaimed) heathens in the past few weeks, and talking with them has got me thinking about where I come from and how I came to claim atheism as my “religion.” I’ve found myself telling the stories from my church days when I was a kid, and when I was 18, and again when I was 20. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about a certain church my family started going to when I was probably 9, and how I was baptized when I was 10 or 11.

And, of course, this has me thinking about June, and about “Two Lambs,” a story that remains unfinished. So I cobbled together this little freewrite, trying to find the hook, the thing that makes the story worth telling, worth reading.

In a couple of days I’ll start an 11 day vacation, and in that time I want to polish three stories and get them ready to send out. There’s still a little work to be done on “Through Parted Curtains” and “It’ll Do You Some Good,” but they’re close. They’ve both been rejected several times from different lit journals. With each rejection came a certain sting that would make me want to shelve the stories.

So I did, but now that I’ve done some revisions, I’ve found that letting them marinate for a couple years has actually helped me find my flaws more easily. With a little more work they’ll be at less risk of rejection. I hope.

Anyway, here’s the freewrite. In hopes of letting the story’s truth rise to the top, I let my writing amble between fact and fiction. After reading it, I see that I have a lot of work to do on “Two Lambs”—much more than on the other two stories. The freewrite begins with what is, for now anyway, the first line of the story.


It was the third Sunday of the month, time for sinners to repent. That’s how it went in our church, anyway, a shrunken Southern Baptist congregation who vowed to stick together, to follow Virgil Bedenbaugh’s interpretation of the Bible—the most literal interpretation we could agree on. The way of the Lord just as He dictated. Thinking back on it, I can’t remember anywhere in the Bible where it says sinners should repent once a month, but then I haven’t read the Bible in twenty years. My parents were determined to follow the way of the Lord, and Virgil promised we were doing it right. The other sixty or so folks in our congregation agreed. If we went to church every Wednesday and Sunday, prayed every day, avoided temptation, greed, sin and blasphemy and listened carefully to what Virgil told us, we were guaranteed to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Only, I was eleven, and I wasn’t so sure that’s what I wanted. Heaven seemed a long ways off. I figured I had sixty or seventy years to go before I faced the Heaven or Hell dilemma, and who was I to care which way I pointed myself in the meantime? All I wanted was to have fun, to screw around and be a kid (whatever that meant) and do my best to avoid the things I hated. Wearing dresses was at the top of that list, and it was mandatory for women to wear dresses in church. Outside of church we were to dress modestly. Shorts must be no more than two inches above the knee and so on. Since all of this was low priority for me, so was church.

All that talk of fire and brimstone scared the crap out of everyone but me. I felt somewhat immune to it, though my mother and father did their best to scare me into believing they were right; Virgil was right; the Bible was the most accurate source there was, and therefore we were destined for hell if we didn’t repent.

On that particular Sunday, we all expected Randy to show up. His attendance at church was sporadic, and in spite of his drunkenness, he managed to remember which Sunday was the third of the month. And, of all those to approach the alter, he was the most regular.

I guess he had the most to repent about, at least in the eyes of the church. As for me, I didn’t think he was ever going to be pure. (Of course, I didn’t’ think purity existed, so what difference did it make if he was washed clean?)

I don’t know what made me feel exempt from all those beliefs. Maybe it was because I didn’t do any of the usual things that were considered sinful. I didn’t drink, didn’t know what adultery was (and assumed I didn’t do it), I rarely lied, and I was nice to as many people as I could be.

Now Randy was a different story. He was the resident drunk; he squatted in parks and behind grocery stores; he peed on the sidewalks (usually only when Binky Chastain and I dared him to, but still). Those things were minor, I suppose, to what came out of the rumor mill. I’d heard—I guess we’d all heard—that he’d killed someone. He was never convicted, and as far as I know he wasn’t even tried. It was a fact, though, that in the eyes of our community, in tiny prosperity SC, he’d killed a woman and would go to hell.

Randy was in his thirties then—about the age I am now. I don’t know where he is now. I’ve since moved away and all the people of Prosperity are out of my periphery. I think of them time to time. I think of my upbringing and of hanging with Binky and Steven Harbin, the only kids my age in my neighborhood. I think of Buddy’s on Main and the penny candy we shoved into our pockets, the orange sodas we bought for thirty five cents, popsicles that dripped down our chins, melting before we had time to finish them. I think of the old church ladies, who sat straight-backed in the pews throughout the entire sermon. I think of the way the town itself was arranged. Whites on one side; blacks and the poor on the other, in run down mill houses infested with cockroaches.

I think of the rumor mill and how it grew faster and thicker than kudzu. I think of folks accused for stealing, for alcoholism, for thievery, and I think of a town infested with sin, or rumors of sin. And I think again of the old ladies who sat prim and proper with their bibles open to the right page and their minds set on Heaven. I think of front porches and feeling as though I was being watched when I rode by on my bike. I remember the way people would bow their heads in shame when they used food stamps at the Winn-Dixie or when their credit cards were declined at Wal-Mart.

I remember my sister, Donna Mae, and the way she smelled thick with perfume before she went out on her dates. And I remember my mother giving her that perfume for her birthday. I remember my grandfather using the N word without any thought or apology. I remember it being a part of his vocabulary; he said it just as often as he said fried chicken or might could.

These memories all inform what I am about to tell you. I cannot say for sure that my memories are true, or that they are uninfluenced by my present world view. I can only tell you what is my truth, and what it looks like now when I am thinking back on where I was and how innocent the world seemed in spite of it all.

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the show

I’ve been trying hard to get a post together tonight, but it’s not coming out in blog-worthy form. The ideas I’m writing about loop around and around and double back on themselves and I feel as though I need to print them out, to cut them apart and lay them on the floor in my living room and try to fit them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.I’ve grappled with it for a couple hours now, and what I’ve finally figured out is that I am doing two things at once: I am trying to show you something, and am I trying to teach myself something.

That, of course, made me think of this song I really love. So instead of posting something unfinished, I’ll share this with you:

That is all.

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how good a memory can smell

I saw something really cool today.

This quarter I have been working closely with a community based practice class at UWB called Teaching Youth Journalism. Throughout the quarter the six students in this class have been learning the fundamentals of journalism writing and the fundamentals of peer tutoring. I’ve given a couple workshops on the theory and practice of peer tutoring, and I’ve introduced the students to the philosophies and methods we follow in the Writing Center I manage.

But that’s not the cool part.

The students have put these skills to use in a very good way. For the past three weeks they’ve gone to 826 Seattle to give journalism writing workshops to kids ages 9 through 14. The kids have gone through the entire phase of putting together a newspaper. They started by learning the basics of journalism writing, then they started conducting interviews and writing articles.

Today I got to see the end result.

Take a look at this: 826seattle.tumblr.com (Actually, it looks like the issue that this particular group of kids put together isn’t online yet, so I’m posting this link prematurely. I’m sure Issue 3 will be up soon.)

Here is the culmination of a ton of work. I was there to see the design editor put the final touches on the newspaper and “send it to press.” (Which, in this case, means he hit print and then went into another room to grab the pages of the printer, but it was still cool to watch). I was there to see the students hand out copies to the kids. I watched them read their pieces, and though they’re a shy, quiet bunch, it wasn’t hard at all to see how happy they were. But it didn’t stop there. They gathered up small handfuls of the 12 page paper and marched out to distribute it to coffee shops around Greenwood. A little while later they came back, beaming.

And I thought of myself as a kid.

I thought of the first time I was published. I was in fourth grade and I’d written a poem about Lynch’s Woods. The poem was published in the Newberry Observer and that, to me, felt like a really big deal. I knew that lots of people would read my poem. And I remember thinking about that days after it was published. I remember thinking that there were people who’d never met me and probably never would meet me that had read something I wrote. And how cool was that?

I thought of the first book I wrote: The Principal’s Desk that Could Talk. I wrote it in second grade, as part of a class project. We wrote and illustrated our own books and then bound the pages between cloth-wrapped pieces of cardboard. The book looked real to me, like something you could find on a shelf in the library.

I thought of the day my seventh grade teacher told me I should be a writer, and how I went home that day and wrote “Dear Diary, I want to be a writer!”

I thought of my first semester of college at the University of South Carolina. I was a journalism major and I was just as imaginative as I’d been as a kid. I had plans to become a journalist and move to NYC, work for a newspaper, live in a cool, low-rent studio or a loft, eke out a living doing the thing I loved most. (None of that happened, by the way.)

I saw each of these memories as a tick on the Timeline of Kim, and it was clear that this is what I set out to do a long time ago. Writing is the one thing in my life that has been a constant. I can’t remember, exactly, when it became a part of my identity. What I do know is that that identity solidified just a little more with each of these events.

I’m planning a short trip to North Carolina in October. There won’t be much time, but I hope—I really and truly hope—I get to sit by myself and sift through the innards of my mom’s cedar chest. Mom died last year, and I made my dad promise not to toss out anything in that chest. It holds a thousand family artifacts. Mom saved as much as she could cram into that chest—report cards, drawings, birthday cards.

I hope to find that poem I wrote. I hope to find my first book.

Toward the end of the workshop today, the kids were asked who they would give copies of the newspapers to. They all said they’d give one to their parents. I imagined the newspapers being tucked away in boxes or drawers. And I wished upon those kids the best wish I could give them: that one day far into their futures, they happen upon a copy of that newspaper they helped create. I hope they get a chance to sift through mounds of memories. I hope they get to happen upon this thing they’d created years ago. I hope they get to feel how the paper has withered. I hope they get to hold it close and smell it and breathe in memories of a time when they were encouraged to do something really, really cool.