Larksong Origin Stories #2

Karen Shoemaker

Monday, September 14, 2020

According to leadership training lore, there are about ten stories every leader should be able to tell at a moment’s notice about the business they’re in. Probably the most important one is the Origin Story. People want to know where you came from before they can decide if they want to follow you. Well, when it comes to Larksong Writers Place, I’ve got plenty of tales about the origin of this dream.

The first one is a personal one that begins with the kind of person I am and how I came to be this way. It will help explain why an introvert like me, who prefers her own company over almost any other gathering of humans, wants to build a community and create a space to gather. I blame it on family order.

I’m the sixth of seven children. We lived in a smallish house with a big yard at the edge of a small town. The house had four bedrooms, all just a smidge larger than the double beds they held. We had a dining room large enough for the whole family to sit down at once, though we pretty much had to sit down and stand up at the same time because of the tight fit. We had a living room with a TV that got three channels on a clear day, and a couch that more or less held five of us when we weren’t fighting. The rest got the floor. And we had one bathroom. Nine people. One bathroom. In that same era my grandparents’ house didn’t have indoor plumbing at all, so we saw ourselves as lucky.

What I mean to say is, I grew up in a crowd. I did everything in a crowd. I used to joke that until I turned 14 I didn’t know I could even use the toilet without someone else in the room. Despite all that togetherness, I grew up to be an introvert, I need a lot of down time between interactions with others. When I was young, I got that solitude by wandering around that big yard we had. I had secret rooms in the lilac hedges and in the branches of the big elm tree on the far side of the garden. I could disappear for hours and then come back ready for the fray, whatever the fray had in store for me.

The grown up version of that little girl seeking solitude is a writer who began creating
“pocket retreats” – time away from my regular life at cabins in state parks or housesitting for a friend. Tucked into those pockets of time I was able to find me – the writer. Not me the mother/daughter/sister/wife/volunteer/teacher/whathaveyou, but me, the person who could learn to become a channel for creativity. Who could open herself to the universe and let the Muse or whatever you want to call it flow through me and become something else. In those pocket retreats I found what felt to me to be my life’s purpose. I became a writer.

Even as I devoured and relished those pockets of time and space, I was still me – the sixth of seven children. I was and always would be a member of a pack, one of the puppies in a scrawling litter. By nature, I might have been a lone wolf, but by nurture I was definitely just one of many. I loved my time alone, but when I came home from those retreats I would always wonder how I could share it. How do I create something that contains the luxury of solitude that writers need with the creative energy that comes from being a member of a pack?

About five years ago I found an answer to that question. I started “Write on the River” workshops. These weekend retreats brought small groups of writers together for a weekend of writing, conversation, and private time. Our tag line was “Join us for a weekend of peace, permission, and productivity.”  I didn’t know if it would work, but it did! The main reason it worked was that I had the good sense to invite brilliant and talented friends to join me in leading the workshop. Amy Hassinger and Teri Youmans helped make the first River weekends great events and so one workshop became two, and so on. When our “Write on” workshops went to the Prairie this year I invited Twyla Hansen to co-teach with me and it was absolutely grand.

Along the lines of “if you give a mouse a cookie” sort of thinking, Write on the River continues to grow. If you have one lovely weekend of writing on the river each year, why not have two? And if you have two, why not have more? Why not have workshops in different locations? Why not write on the prairie? On a lake? Or – dream big! – why not write internationally? Let’s go to Greece! (We are! Next September we’re having our first international Write on Retreat. Details on the website)

What about a permanent location? Why shouldn’t there be a place for people to gather people who want to write and meet other writers and learn and share and create in a space dedicated to just that purpose? Co-working spaces are all the rage, after all.

And so the dream of building a writers place began to take shape outside of the pictures in my head. In its first carnation, when I put the dream to a power point that I could take to the banker, I called it Brigadoon, because it felt to me like the magical place made famous in that old Gene Kelly movie that rises up out of the mists and becomes real when you enter it.

The good news is, the banker agreed it was a great idea by any name, and so I was released to search for a home for my dream. The bad news is this search began in earnest shortly before COVID-19 struck and put the kibosh on gathering under one roof.

Thank heavens for technology – we (I became “we” when my sister Linda Kallhoff retired after 40 years in the social services industry and became my partner in dreaming Larksong into being. Without her this would all still be a dream manifested only in fits and starts. While waiting for the world to right itself we’ve gone to Zoom. We hold virtual writing workshops and retreats. We’ve brought more writers in to join us in leading workshops – writers I am so excited to work with and who I know will be a gift and great addition to the Larksong team. (I’ll tell you about the name in a later blog, but in the meantime note that it is a beautiful name, one that celebrates where we are – in the heart of the country.)

This September Lucy Adkins will lead a memoir writing workshop and Grace Bauer will lead a poetry workshop. We will continue to build this writing community wherever and whenever we can – COVID be d---ed!

You can join us for those workshops if you hurry!

Larksong Origin Stories #1

Karen Shoemaker

Monday, September 14, 2020

Let’s start with who we are, no, let’s start with who I am (Oh lordy, this blog is already an unwieldy existential beast and I’m not even through the first paragraph of the first entry!).

Okay, I’ll start by introducing myself: I’m Karen Gettert Shoemaker – a writer, teacher, and chaser of dreams according to my most recent website label. I write novels and short stories mostly, though I’ve some poetry and nonfiction out in the world (See bio for specifics). I’ve been a teacher since back in the late 1900s. It’s so jarring to see it written that way, isn’t it? But it’s true so I’ll leave it.

Enough of that background, what I really want to talk to you about is the “chaser of dreams” part of my bio. I’ve been chasing a dream that, if you’re a writer or want to be a writer – may be of interest to you. In the last paragraph of this blog you’ll find a way to connect with this dream.  The dream – its evolution, development, and manifestations – will be the enduring focus of this blog.

I have this dream of creating a writers’ place in Lincoln NE, an independent literary center that offers workshops and retreat space for creative writers. I envision it as a community where people can find the space and support they need to fulfill their own dreams of living a writer’s life, or simply finding a way to tell their own stories and express themselves. Nebraska is under-represented in the world’s literary imagination, a lack that puts the pressure of finding national recognition on the individual with each new project. We’re a fly-over state to much of the world, unfamiliar even to ourselves in many ways. I want to help change that. I want to bring together writers and other artists at all levels of their careers in a co-working space that is both virtual and physical. I want to offer workshops with both nationally and locally esteemed writers. I want there to be retreat spaces for writers to work and dream. I want to offer ongoing educational opportunities, readings and casual gatherings that inform, educate, and excite the creative souls in the community. Lincoln – all of Nebraska really – is filled with vibrant, creative individuals, groups, spaces, events, and co-ops. I want there to be one dedicated to writers, poets, songwriters, playwrights, screenwriters and any other writer you dream of being.

Larksong Writers Place is more than just a dream.

This dream I’m chasing has two origin stories: one from my personal history and one from my professional history, and I’ll share both with you in the upcoming blog entries. In the meantime, I not only invite you to dream this dream with me, I invite you into the reality of it. Members of the Larksong Writers Place team have been living our way toward fulfilling the dream. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are finding ways to build the community and offer support to writers. The newest offerings include on-line workshops led by professional writers and teachers. I’ll be leading one on prose writing.  Lucy Adkins will be leading one on memoir writing, and Grace Bauer will be leading poets in a revision workshop. I love these two women writers, and I think you will too. Check out the workshop page on our web site. Join us!


Larksong is committed to supporting both the writers who come to us for instruction and the writers who come to us to teach. We keep our class fees low, offer free programming, and pay our instructors. Please consider supporting our mission by making a tax-deductible donation.