By Cynthia Ray
In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, she says:
“It is said that only humans have the capacity for gratitude. This is among our gifts. It is such a simple thing, but we all know the power of gratitude to incite a cycle of reciprocity. We know that appreciation begets abundance”
It is almost as if appreciation and gratitude create something from nothing. There is an old folk tale called “Stone Soup” in which hungry travelers without resources or food put a stone into a pot of boiling water. Curious villagers stop by to see what is going on and are told that this is stone soup, and if only they had a bit of garnish to improve the flavor it would be quite tasty. Intrigued, the first villager contributes a few carrots for which the travelers are grateful. The next passer-by contributes an onion, and so on, until a delicious soup is created and shared by all. The inedible stone becomes the catalyst for sharing and nourishes everyone and generates gratitude which begets abundance.
The value of connection with a vibrant, generous, and creative group of writers and artists cannot be overstated. Through the miracle of connection, a wonderful community soup emerges, that nourishes all of us as writers, as artists, and as a people.
When I took a writing class at a local community college, many years ago, I had no idea that it would launch me on a lifetime journey of discovery, of becoming, and of connection. In that short fiction writing class I met writers with a similar mindset and purpose. They were quirky, off-beat, had a sense of humor, and loved to write and read fiction of all kinds. The teacher, a well-known published author, made her living as a full-time writer. That in itself was inspiring, but she also had a heart for mentoring and encouraging budding and would be writers of all ages and abilities. She created community just by who she was and what she believed in. Just like in the folk tale, giving creates community, and is reciprocal, ongoing, and ever-expanding.
One key piece of advice that I took from her class was to join a writing critique group, and to attend writing conferences and workshops. Since then, I have been a member of several writing and critique groups and facilitated one for several years. In those circles, one comes to know people on a different level. These groups provided a place to share the knowledge, expertise, challenge and joy of writing. The connection and friendships that came from those critique groups continue to unfold.
Over time, the connections that I have made with writers, artists, and mystics, have supported me, have inspired me, and have amazed me. When someone I know publishes a book or story, I feel pride for them. I buy the book, read it, review it, and share it. I know what it takes to write a story, I know what they put into that book. Perhaps I heard them read an early version at a critique group, or perhaps they shared the struggle to produce that beautiful piece of work, and I rejoice with them that it passed out of the valley of the shadow of possibility, and through their efforts into a real contribution to the community soup.
Another gift connection brings is the synergistic and creative collaboration that is born out of artistic community. Two examples from Shadowspinners include the collaborative “Collection of Dark Tales”, and the Labyrinth of Souls Novels, which started as a collaboration between Matt Lowes as the creator of a game called Labyrinth of Souls based on Tarot cards, and an artist in Germany. The game inspired a collaboration of writers to produce novels loosely based on the game, with the common theme of a journey to an underworld. Some incredible writing came and continues to come from that collaboration.
I am eternally grateful for the indelible friendships, for the generous, open-hearted hands that helped me along the way, with feedback, with encouragement, with a kick in the backside when needed, and everything that went into the community soup, even the stones. No, especially the stone. It’s the catalyst.