Haven Winter Series #7

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PMThis is the seventh post in a series I’m calling I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? Every winter I hand my blog over to other writers for a few weeks to explore a theme.

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

I gave myself the gift of a Haven writing retreat. So now what?
by Jessica Gilkison

I first gave myself the gift of a Haven writing retreat in early 2013, about 18 months after my mom died, six months after my husband’s most recent health crisis, and right smack in the middle of our 12 year-old daughter falling apart. If those things won’t drive you to seek a creative outlet, nothing will.

I’d read about Haven retreats before, but for the first time it spoke to me. To me! It no longer felt like a message just for people who were already writers. Wannabes and newbies welcome. It seemed a bit crazy to travel somewhere in February that was as cold as my home base of Madison, Wisconsin. That didn’t deter me. It also seemed a bit crazy to apply for a writing retreat when I hadn’t really written anything. I was a reader, not a writer. That didn’t deter me, either.

My main goal for that first retreat was to just start writing. I’d been doing the not-writing thing for a long time, and it wasn’t serving me. The thought of writing scared me more than a little, but I was learning that for me, fear is an invitation to pay attention—to see what’s there, what’s lurking underneath. When I’m honest with myself, I know the fear is based on a lie. It’s a way of playing it safe, of not writing. I was ready to stop hiding and start writing.

Haven 1.0 was life-changing. It cracked open the door and showed me the possibilities. It teased me with a taste of the writing life. It was amazing. Haven was also hard. I didn’t know how to write about the things that really mattered and I began to wonder what I was doing there and whether I truly belonged. After a few ugly moments one evening in the privacy of my room, I got over myself, tuned in to the talent and vulnerability unfolding in others around me, and started to get the hang of it. I inhaled as much wisdom and courage from my surroundings and new friends as possible, and brought home a nugget of a writing practice.

As life continued to serve up twists and turns over the next 18 months, I didn’t so much nurture my writing practice as use it to document unfolding events. It was my sacred coping strategy. Then, last summer I came across a book proposal my mom wrote but never sent. Discovering this artifact of my mom’s aborted writing life felt like a message from her, cautioning me not to wait for my own daughter to someday find the proposal for my unfinished book. It wasn’t my mom’s fault that she didn’t get to share her writing more widely. Cancer intercepted her solicitation letter, rejecting her manuscript on behalf of the universe. Yet I had no such current challenge, so what was I waiting for?

I woke up and started paying more attention, ready to take another step toward integrating writing into my daily life. I explored the ways into the stories brewing in me, preparing to spend some time with those entry points to see where they’d lead me. And lead me, they did.

I gave myself the gift of a second Haven retreat this past September. This time I arrived with a better understanding of my need to be real with myself and others, to crack open on the page. Haven 2.0 was different. I was different. I felt open, no longer intimidated by the talent and creativity around me. I was finding my voice and it felt transformational. My spirit buzzed in the way that confirms you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

The final night of this second magical Haven retreat included a talk from Laura in which she shared her wisdom about returning to our regular lives—some tips she’d gathered after shepherding scores of new writers through this transition. I was already aware of the typical post-retreat suggestions. What I wasn’t prepared for was Laura’s caution not to make any big decisions for at least two weeks. Don’t go home and quit your job or divorce your husband or anything like that. We all laughed because who would be silly enough to go on a four-day writing retreat and make such big decisions? Am I right? *gulp*

This is where “so now what?” comes in for me. See, I’d had a moment of total clarity earlier that day. During a group session one woman shared a powerful question she’d been asked: What is life giving, and what will deplete you? I felt my answer immediately. Writing is life giving, and continuing my current work will deplete me.

I decided not to worry about what exactly a writing life would look like for me. I came home and gave notice at work that I’d be leaving at the end of the semester. Instead of fitting writing in around everything else, I needed to make writing my priority, at least during business hours. I wasn’t so much quitting my job, as I was moving toward something else: a writing life.

And here I am, a little over two months later. The semester is over and I’m working on this, my first new piece. This is my “so now what?” I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Yes, My Haven Sisters
By Alicia Buisst 

Yes, my Haven sisters, I AM a writer.  As I sat having dinner with two of my friends last night, one of them said to me, “You have it made.  Your husband has a good job and you don’t work and so you have it made.”  This got my ire up.  “I don’t have a job in the traditional sense, in an office I drive to, but I do work.  I am a writer and – “ She cut me off.  “Yeah, but that’s not a REAL job.”

I sat up like a steel beam in my chair.  We had worked with together for ten years at a bank, and that was about ten years ago.  My other friend, who also worked with us, agreed with the first one, that writing was not a “job” or “profession” like they had.  Turning to me like a mom trying to tell a child that they are still loved in spite of themselves, she rubbed my shoulder in condolence.  It felt like they spilled their diet cokes all over me.  How dare they say that?  Friends?  Some vegetables are not meant to come back in the garden every year.  And these were two of them.

Yes, my Haven sisters I AM a writer.  I defended my craft and myself for almost an hour, speaking quite adeptly, if I do say so.  Steaming from this conversation on my drive home, I realized I had been due for a good metamorphosis for some time.  The cocoon I had woven myself into began to itch back in June of this year on a ranch in the mountains of Montana.  The Haven.  If the struggle to free itself from the cocoon is what creates the butterfly, gives it new life and wings to take flight, then I feel I’m becoming one of prehistoric size.

I’ve been struggling for several months with my writing – but that’s what writing is all about.   It’s the struggle within us and outside of us, between friends and among family, in our past and in our thoughts about our future – our wresting with ourselves in the present.  Those five days at the Haven – days of trepidation detox, listening, writing, expressing, risking, walking between thick trees, laughing among new friends, bonding to the core of ourselves, as writers – were the catalyst to revelation.   All my life, I’ve heard so many women say, “I can’t because”; yet, I’ve seen so many women succeed by telling themselves, “I can and will in spite of.”  I don’t need anyone’s permission to write.  I give myself permission to fulfill my own destiny.

Yes, my Haven sisters.  I AM a writer.  I am writing and I will and publish my book, despite nits and twits and smiling condolences.  I will see my name next to my words and my thoughts:  my authentic voice.  I envision the inside covers of my book, with photos of me and all of you, my Haven sisters, with Laura, and the view looking over the dock and lake that echoed our own voices.   As I wrote on the evening of that summer solstice in Montana:  I write to speak the authenticity of my own voice, to add my own stitch to the fabric of memory.   I AM a writer.

 

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Blog Series-- Now What?, My Posts

5 Responses to Haven Winter Series #7

  1. Jan Myhre

    Dear Jessica & Alicia, Your heartfelt “and heart-wired” words caused me to smile, nod my head in agreement, smile some more and , yes, even tear up. Thank you so much for sharing in words what I feel in my heart. I believe I will take the leap to publish my memoir. Why not? I have nothing to lose. And that’s the answer, for me, to “so now what?” Namaste

    • Jessica Gilkison

      Jan–I look forward to reading your memoir. I wholeheartedly agree–we have nothing to lose in sharing our stories, and there is so much to gain. Thank you for sharing your reaction to these pieces.

  2. Oh, I got chills reading both of these essays!

    Jessica, you finding your mother’s book proposal after her death really struck a nerve with me. My mom was a sculptor whose art was stolen from her by multiple sclerosis, which took away the feeling in her hands, and then her legs, and then her life. On her death certificate I filled in her profession as “artist.” Belated but true. I love how you are finding your voice, and with this essay as your “what next” I see such success in your future!

    Alicia, your ferocity is wonderful, admirable, and your metaphor about vegetables totally cracked me up. Some are not meant to be replanted, indeed! It’s a bit sad how some of those who profess to care for us can cut us down – or try to – with assumptions and judgements. But the most important thing is recognizing it and holding fast to your truth.

    One day I hope to join you Haven sisters and share my own story. Until them I will bask in yours and keep writing my own here.

  3. Hey Jessica and Alicia – Wow! You can’t get more raw and authentic than what you’ve written. Every time I read a piece from someone who has experienced Haven – I grow a little bit more. It makes you remember ALL ‘those’ feelings, those ah-ha moments and exactly what you were doing when you allowed yourself to believe in yourself – some times for the first time.
    Breath Deep, Think Peace

  4. Susan Bonnette

    Jessica and Alicia: as a wannabe writer since childhood I can only admire the leaps you each have taken. Your pieces were heartfelt and inspiring. I read Jessica’s mother’s writing and was stunned by the truths she so vividly expressed. Never did I dream she would be such a writer. My best hopes for both of you. You have much to say! We want to hear it!

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