Buckets of Inspiration

Booker T. Washington, the educator and author and president of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama, gave a famous speech in 1895. In the Atlanta Compromise Speech, he told the story of a ship that was lost at sea for several days. The crew had run out of fresh water, and they were dying of thirst. No land was in sight. Then they spotted a friendly vessel and sent a signal to indicate that they needed water. The other ship immediately sent back this message: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

The desperate crew sent a second message: “Water, send us water!”

Again, the response came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

Four times this exchange occurred before the captain of the first ship lowered a bucket into the ocean. To his astonishment, that bucket was full of sparkling, fresh water.  They were in the Atlantic off the coast of northern Brazil, where the Amazon so powerfully propels its water nearly one hundred miles into the ocean.

Washington concluded his speech with these words: “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preserving friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.”

I was in Ireland last summer, traveling with the Spalding MFA in Writing students at their summer residency and hoping for a shot of encouragement and inspiration as a writer. An hour after I’d arrived and settled in, I headed out for a short guided tour of Dublin, and within the first few minutes of that tour, I met a couple of writers who would do just that – inspire and encourage me. The funny thing is that they live in Orlando, about ninety minutes from my home.  They were, so to speak, from my own waters.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn is a poet known for her saucy style and engaging readings. Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on WMFE-FM, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was a Kerouac Project writer in residence in 2006. Her first book, Wax Rose, a poetry and short story collection, was published in 2007. Her second book,Three Houses, is a collection of love poems with collaborator Brad Kuhn, her husband. Together, Brad and Darlyn own Brad Kuhn and Associates, a stellar PR firm in Orlando. I have had the pleasure of being an advance reader for her new novel, Sewing Holes. It is a lovely story of a young girl who feels responsible for keeping her family together after the death of her father. Please check out Darlyn’s website: http://darlynfinchkuhn.com.

Another friend I found by casting my bucket in Florida is Jenn, also known as “Scraps.” She’s an artist, a writer, but my favorite thing about her is that she’s a genius amateur bartender. Her website, Scraps of Life, is full of great writing, and if you ever need a great drink recipe, check out the “Nibbles and Sips” section.

I spent last week in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Spalding MFA Homecoming celebration, partly to see old friends and partly in search of more inspiration. The MFA program director, Sena Jeter Naslund, told the Booker T. Washington story at graduation to explain that inspiration is everywhere. And it’s available to each of us if we’ll just lower the bucket. I just finished a manuscript that is the history of Community Bible Church, the ministry started by my parents, Buford and Babs Adams, in March 1965. That book will be available at the church’s 50th Anniversary celebration next year.  With that finished, I am beginning work on a novel. To date, my work has primarily been in non-fiction.  It’s a scary proposition to jump genres, yet I think it’s time to branch out. I expect to be lowering my bucket daily as I start this new adventure.

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