The Paula Gordon Show
Simply Complex

When Georgia native Amy Blackmarr sold her business in Kansas to move back to a cabin by her grandfather's fishing pond, she anticipated a simple life. She was mistaken. "Simple" turned out to be surprisingly complicated. In this conversation with Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, Amy describes her personal and literary adventures.

Amy Blackmarr did what uncounted others talk about -- she left "life in the fast lane" to find herself in nature, to write. Now she's back to tell her stories. One of them has a surprising twist: the more simple something is -- the fewer the constrictions -- the more open the situation is to possibility. It's deceiving, Blackmarr discovered.

"Going to Ground" means finding refuge, whether in a fox hunt (the fox goes to ground, the dogs don't,) in the military (full of "fox holes") or in a cabin on one's grandfather's fishing pond in South Georgia. In order to "Go to Ground," Blackmarr had to sell her successful paralegal business in Kansas. Then she created a life easily compared with Thoreau's on Walden Pond. On the surface, it looked Very Simple. Turned out, it was not simple to come to terms with the ordinary.

After five years and the publication of her book of essays which chronicles her discoveries, she finds herself reconnected to her family and astonished by her need to cultivate both community and intimate personal relationships. She attributes this need to a challenge she thinks we all share -- how to reconnect with each other in the electronic age. We just don't spend enough time on the back porch any more, sipping mint juleps and swapping stories. Blackmarr's solution -- join the resurging literary genre of the personal essay. "What I write is strictly true for me. I trust that's what others relate to. It's just my way of sharing my own experiences."

Blackmarr's ties to the land are more than just being a Southerner she believes, though certainly that's an important part of who and what she says she is. All of us, she thinks, share an essential connection to the land. And thinking about the land has her thinking about boundaries these days. She thinks we all have preconceptions of where we belong, boundaries which limit us. She's working to break down those boundaries within herself. Doing so has reconnected her not only to the land of her forebearers but also to other people.

Leaving South Georgia made Amy Blackmarr realize just how much she liked returning to that cabin by the pond. The same can be said of the tree house where she now lives, back in Kansas. Perhaps "simple" is a life lesson, not a geography lesson.

Amy Blackmarr

Amy Blackmarr

Amy Blackmarr published her stories in Going to Ground: Simple Life on a Georgia Pond (Viking). She tells her stories to listeners of Peach State Public Radio and Kansas City's NPR affiliate. She now she lives in a tree house outside Lawrence, Kansas, while completing her Ph.D. as a Self Fellow at the University of Kansas.


Conversation 1

Amy Blackmarr tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how she came to spend five years on her grandfather's fishing pond in South Georgia. Her goal was to learn how to live in the world and still maintain her own identity.

She tells the challenge of selling her successful business in Kansas and "going to ground" -- a place of refuge. Everyone, she believes, can make a similar dream come true, even if we cannot go to a similar physical place.

Conversation 2

Blackmarr describes her feeling of connection to the land.

She poses and answers the question, "Why do you think the personal essay genre is growing again?" Her answers have a lot to do with living in the information age. She describes the importance of her belief that everyone's experiences share a universal ground. She talks about discovering one's voice in writing while remembering to listen to the voices of others.

Currently, Blackmarr is exploring ideas about boundaries, which she describes.

Conversation 3

Blackmarr is eager to move away from a linear sense of existence and offers her writing as an example of life not being a continuous narrative.

She sets forth her belief that we are being recreated, moment by moment. She describes how her life as an artist is very similar to other people's experiences, confident that we learn from each others' stories. Writing is her way to share with others while discovering and re-creating herself.

Conversation 4

Life on a Georgia pond is not necessarily simple, Blackmarr discovered. She shares her discovery of how complex "the simple life" can be. She describes the irony of finding that the simpler something is, the more complicated it can become; the fewer the constrictions, the more open the situation is to possibility for thought and development. She relates this to her own personal journey of "self-work." Once can discover one's own truths with simple methods which may in fact be complicated to implement.

Blackmarr thinks aloud about the role of artists, activists and risk-takers. She celebrates in her role as story teller, telling others what her experience has been, leaving them to chose how they relate to her tales. She describes being caught in the stream of social changes flowing through American society in the last 20 years.

Conversation 5

"Going to ground" has many meanings, all of which include a sense of refuge. Blackmarr describes the refuge her grandfather's cabin provided, reuniting her with her family system. Going away, she believes, makes one realize how much one likes coming back. This was also true for her at the larger level of rediscovering the importance she places in reconnecting with people, cultivating a sense of community, satisfy a longing for intimate human contact.

Blackmarr believes she and her audience all share a universal experience. People are free to take away from her stories what they will.

Eager to nurture a poetic voice, Blackmarr suggests we may need to discover new ways to make poems, making them more than simply words and lines across a page.

Conversation 6

The literary life, according to Blackmarr, can be very "dice-y," "chance-y." She is sustained by her conviction that she is writing what is strictly true for herself. And yes, her mother does think she's brave!

She concludes by describing her works-in-progress.


Amy Blackmarr's "Aunt Helen" was our patient guest as we recorded this program. It was charming to meet a member of the family with whom Amy "reconnected" and we thank Aunt Helen.

Additional Links:
Going to Ground: Simple Life on a Georgia Pond is published by Viking (

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