February 2018

A New Beginning...

A Center for Writers and Storytellers

by Kim Zanti

If ever there was a time for me to reflect on what was next in my life, it was the spring of 2017. I had already made a decision to leave my job at The Centers for Research on Creativity (CRoC). I came slowly (some might say glacially) to the realization that it was time to go.

There were many things that I loved about the work. My favorite was being welcomed as an observer. In labs, classrooms, studios, on stages, in schools and learning centers around the country, I recorded what I saw with detailed notes and photographs. It appealed to the documentarian in me, but in the end, did not hold my heart enough to make me want to commit to a Ph.D. necessary to fully join the ranks of our senior researchers. 

I’d known this for a long time, and, in 2014, when the volunteer opportunity to lead a speaker series for Topanga Authors’ Group came up, I didn’t hesitate. I signed on. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but I saw a path to a storytelling laboratory, without the major commitment of money and time for an advanced degree. For three and a half years, TAG existed as that – a place to collaborate, solve problems, feel joy, brainstorm, ask questions, not know answers, make mistakes, try new things, let random happen, reconnect to my instincts, and most importantly to revel in the craft of writing, to take myself seriously as a writer. Oh, it got me.

And still, I didn’t know how to make the transition so that I could make a change in my professional life. It was a slow process letting go of CRoC. I didn’t know what was next. I had ideas about strategic consulting and a couple potential clients, but no real vision of the work that not only I could do, but wanted to. So, I walked away from the problem and went on the road for three weeks with mi perro compañero Chaya.

My trusty Forester carried us through desert, mountains, and plains, and back again. I discovered (and rediscovered) beauty so sublime it made me cry, and I began to more fully understand the impenetrable contradictions carved into relationships among people, governments, and lands. And then, death came calling. 

In Flagstaff, Arizona, I got the news that my Aunt Lucy had died. Down a WPA Road on a ranch in Nebraska, I learned that my second cousin Trini died. Back in my tiny house in Topanga, I read on Facebook that my friend Henry died while attending the rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Chaya and I had stayed overnight there, just two weeks before, and I had photographed a building painted with a forty-foot mural of a cherubic angel. A week later my neighbor, ill for a long time, lied down and never got up. Another week later, my sister called me at dawn to let me know that my brother-in-law died, sending shockwaves throughout our family, which he had been a part of for 40 years. In August, death stood on my doorstep, with the text message news that my friend, fellow Topangan, and ‘boss’ (in quotes because he never felt like a traditional boss) succumbed to a heart attack and stroke.

This juggernaut of loss knocked me to my knees. Never had I faced death so much or so close. Grief is made up of so many interlocking strands of emotions, that it’s hard to see past it. But the clear sensation in me was that I had to do work that reached down into my deepest desires to write, to tell stories, to publish, to teach, to learn.

What happened next was unexpected. The research needed to continue and I returned to CRoC to finish coordinating several multi-year studies in progress. I had already come up with a name for my consulting services, as nebulous as they were – CatalystMuse. But then there was the research center. Could I combine the work of CRoC and TAG into this new entity called CatalystMuse?

I could with the help of Tamee´ Seidling, who I work closely with at CRoC managing the company. An actor, writer, and producer, she is also an ace CFO, who I trust implicitly. She supported my ideas about CatalystMuse, and after much back and forth about how to turn this idea into reality, everything became clear. 

In June of this year, we will turn CRoC’s main office into CatalystMuse – A Center for Writers and Storytellers. CRoC will move into the half suite we share on the second floor of Pine Tree Circle, and CatalystMuse will occupy the larger, corner suite. We’ll offer 8-week writing classes for adults, 4-week summer classes for youth and teens, Pass The Hat Lectures, and cross-training workshops that combine different forms of creativity with writing practice. There’s more, but we don’t know what it is yet! Including how TAG will continue. With this, I ask for your patience as we let time tell us the answers.

What we do know is that we will operate as a California Public Benefit Corporation 501(c)3 tax status (popularly called by the misnomer ‘non-profit.’) Everything is in motion. There’s much work to do. We will reach out in the coming months to let you know what's happening and how to get involved with Topanga's new center for writers and storytellers.