Haven Winter Blog Series #4: “Influential People”

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Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

 February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

The Past is the Future and Time Goes On

When I was young, I stumbled onto one of the three channels on the television and discovered a showing of “Modern Times.”  It was Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work (in my opinion then and now).  It was also the only time the legendary “Little Tramp” got the girl.

In a famous scene, he was caught in the machinery and spit out at the end. How did he get through all that gearing machinations of the modern world and still survive with optimism?

Yet, in the end he did it.

“Buck up!  Things can always get better!!”  Sunset and fade to black. I made the closing theme my own;  “Smile, through your tears and smile…”

It showed, through the arts, a thirteen-year-old girl, could learn to smile!

My father wanted me to live his life over and become the accountant he wished had become.

If there is a room in hell for me, it will have spreadsheets and tax returns. It was a battle that governed most of my childhood.

I’ve gone through the same set of gears Chaplain did.  Many have. But through that, I became a creative soul.  I am proud of the fight I waged to maintain my inner peace.

Chaplain had his comedic counterpart.  Eric Stuart Campbell was 6’5′” and weighed ten stone.  They met stomping the vaudeville boards and made quite the cinematic team.  I gobbled up every bit of film footage I could find, though much of it has been lost to time.

Campbell was a gentle giant and a great foil for Chaplain. They were a worldwide famous team.  His life was tragic.  At the peak of his success, his wife died after a dinner in Hollywood from a sudden heart attack in 1917.  On the way to arrange the funeral later the next day, his daughter was hit by a car and seriously injured. Three months later he married a gold digger. Those of us who have been wounded know what it is to be punch drunk and still trying to play normal.

He died in a drunken car wreck in 1917.  There is very little of his film work left due to the limited technology and storage techniques.

I give myself permission from a long lost fellow Celt, Mr. Campbell, to share my voice.  But empowered, no longer tortured by other’s expectations.

“Chaplin’s Goliath” taught me we live on in many different forms. We can matter after we depart. We are a link in the chain. Thus, I show up every day.  It is my soul chow. I want to live on in a creative way.  I want my words and thoughts and stories matter to someone I have yet to meet. Maybe it is someone who will meet me after I am gone. THAT matters to me as a creative soul; one who wants to make something out of nothing that MATTERS. What I create will somehow become a link in the chain.

Maybe someone will read some of my words decades from now.  Maybe my words will not be read. THAT does not matter.  I need to put it out there and release to the possibilities of now and the future.  Come what may.

And that is what inspires me.  It inspires me to share and be vulnerable.  It inspires me to put my “stuff” out there.  That somehow, somewhere, remotely, my link in the chain will matter.  My words and my voice will be read, reviewed, perhaps remembered.  Perhaps they will even be quoted. I leave my print.

THAT is where my heart is nurtured.   It is where my soul explores and gets inspiration.

But, what of Eric of the Campbell, of Donoon, clan Campbell of Scotland?  Long dead and oft forgotten, ashes forgotten and lost until 1978? His ashes were discovered and interred in Forest Lawn in Hollywood.

And that is what Eric Campbell, who died in 1917, gave to me. He remains here yet.   As a writer and a seeker that is a magical gift.

Our words, and actions and antics count.  Our history counts.  Our story counts. It validates us that WE count, in whatever way the world needs.

The gentle giant lives on. My words thoughts will live on. In some way or another they will be passed on as my grandfathers and uncles quotes will be passed on through me.   As Eric Campbell, therefore go I.  He gave me the gift of eternity.

That is what gives me permission and inspiration.  Maybe, even in this virtual world, my words will be read and matter

I will be part of the tapestry.

It is important to be one of the threads.

- Mary Sigmond  iamonmypath.blogspot.com

Post #2 

IMG_0041Unlikely Inspiration

I’ve lived a left brained life, structure, logic, facts and analysis. That is, until six years ago when I purchased the last copy of a hard covered memoir with a horseshoe on the front.

I read it while on the beach.  Grains of sand and drops of sunscreen graced the pages, as did the author’s words upon my soul.  My journey from left to right brain began. I traveled from rigid, linear thinking, toward creativity and imagination.  I began writing and blogging. This new found shift propelled me to believe I should attend a writing retreat.   September of 2012 I traveled to Montana to do so.

In hindsight, what was I doing? I’d never taken a writing class, attended a workshop or been part of a writing group. I’m a financial controller. My life was filled with numbers.  As my love affair with them waned the pull towards written language strengthened.

I was encouraged to create a writing practice, I didn’t.  I wrote when I could, or moved to.  Two years later, wanting to reconnect with that part of me which resided in fallow; I attended another Haven retreat.  It filled me, and left me empty.  I saw what I could be, not what I was.  I was a half stepping it in the writing world.

Sedona, Arizona called to me in May.   I needed time in this unencumbered space where performance is not expected. Each moment is fully lived.  Rainbows emerge without rain, angel clouds suddenly appear and heart shaped rocks are abundant.

The next to last day of the trip while traveling down the rain slicked red rocks I encountered a wayward heart.  She was a member of the trip team. We had just finished a meditation. It was a personal and emotional one for me centered on Motherhood.  As we converged Rebecca asked me a simple question.

“How many children do you have?”

I answered. I have two.  I gave their names and a synopsis of where they are in life.

In return I asked, “How many children do you have?”

Her pace slowed.  She took a breath, time stilled. “I have one, but I had two.”

With those words I knew who she was.  I realized, for many years we traveled in the same circles, but had never met.  Her son had taken his taken his life a year earlier.

My heart seized.  Words escaped me.  After a few steps all I could muster was “I’m sorry.”

Later that night, at a group event we spoke.  She shared she has been encouraged to write her story.  She’s not ready to travel there.  I introduced her to a Facebook friend who’s finishing a memoir about her son Matt. He passed of an addiction related suicide.  Her hand brushed upon mine, “My son’s name was Matt and he passed from an addiction related suicide”.

The next morning the group met to witness the sunrise. While most of us were in awe of the unfolding beauty, Rebecca was hidden behind her wide rimmed sunglasses. Her arms were folded across her stomach.  I thought if she holds on tight enough her emotions won’t spill from her.

I couldn’t let her go. I friended her on Facebook and began writing to her daily.  She responded.  I shared thoughts, feelings and stories in the hope of reengaging this beautiful woman into life.  In the moments she grabbed on, I smiled.

Every day I found something to write to her about. It may be my perception of what I saw.  The challenges I faced, or my family stories.  She’d respond.  One day she shared her fear of traveling to the place where her son took his last breath.  It was a difficult place to write through, but together we did.

A nagging voice chirped inside of me. I asked my friend, “If my daily writings get too much, please tell me.”

She responded “I love what you have to say. It is a gift.  Keep sharing.”

One rare night while together I revisited the topic, I asked,   “Promise you’ll tell me if you tire of my daily musings.”

She inhaled, “Silver, if I ever say that word you know that’s enough.”

“Silver, okay, got it.” I replied

“Yeah, because what you send me is the gold.”

Several years ago I responded to a blog post that asked, would you write if there was only one person who read your words.  I sat with this for a while.  My answer was yes. If my thoughts and words moved one person, that is all that matters.

Who would have known I’d end up creating a writing practice that does just this.  Each night I share with my friend all that is on my heart. She absorbs it.  As writers, isn’t that all we need?

- Kathy O’Neill

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23


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18 Responses to Haven Winter Blog Series #4: “Influential People”

  1. Dearest Kathy, YOU did it! Wow!!! What a beautiful, honest, from the heart & soul piece! I LOVE, “I thought if she holds on tight enough her emotions won’t spill from her. ” Brilliant!! That has to be one of the most powerful words I’ve ever read. You can feel Rebecca’s strength and frailty.

    You can also feel the flow of your story, what really turned into a quest, hidden in beautiful surroundings, but carried with you always.

    I am overjoyed for you! So proud you found the brave to put yourself out there – because your story will help SO many more people be inspired to do something out of their comfort zone. Meeting Rebecca and learning about her story immediately brings compassion and connection. Not many people can do that, or they are afraid to do that – Look what you did!!!

    I am very excited to see/read what is next! Well done my dear, dear friend!
    Breathe Deep, Think Peace

    • Kathy

      Patty My Friend, Yes, I did it!! Thank you for your guidance and encouragement. I count you as one of my dearest Haven blessings. At different times we traveled thousands of miles from New York to Montana to connect with our shared passion. Through this sisterhood and the internet, once back on the east coast we met. You my friend are my Haven gift that continues to give. I look forward to many more hours around the writing table and (beside the lake) with you.

  2. Dear Mary, What a beautiful piece of writing! I too am a lover of movies – those of Chaplin and Buster, as well as the modern. I love to be swept up and taken to places of wonder, as well as to laugh till breath is lost! Your writing does just that. You ask me to follow – and I fall into step. Your voice is crisp and clear. I LOVE when your referred to being a thread in the tapestry as well as, “I need to put it out there and release to the possibilities of now and the future. Come what may.” That has such courage to write, to read and to say out loud. It is indeed powerful. Thank You so much for sharing what I am sure, is a part of a much longer, fuller, and rich story.

  3. These pieces are both gold. Yes, our words matter. Our lives matter. How miraculous the way so many lives–past, present, iconic, everyday–weave together that which makes us who we are. Thank you both for sharing your beautiful stories.

    • Kathy

      Thank you Mary for your beautiful insights. Our lives are intertwined in ways we never imagined. Nine months ago I knew nothing of the woman who I met on the Sedona trail. She opened her heart and allowed me to share her story. In doing so she gave me a gift. I’m honored to be part of this series.

  4. Carolyn

    Mary, Kathy
    Such beautiful souls. Awesome and poignant words. Thank you for your bravery!

    • Kathy

      Thank you Carolyn. This quote has always spoken to me. Today it takes on a whole new meaning

      “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”….Anais

  5. Lynette Elenberger

    Mary, again you get me to stop, and think about where my life has led me, and if anything I have done counts. I believe I have left my mark, but not sure it will be carried to far in the future. My history is with my family. Hopefully they will keep my torch burning.
    Keep writing. You keep my feet firmly planted on the ground!

  6. Bonnie

    such a moving piece
    those angels and hearts are with you always…
    keep on writing.
    your words are inspiring

  7. Fran

    I shared thoughts, feelings and stories in the hope of reengaging this beautiful woman into life. In the moments she grabbed on, I smiled. Hmmmm….

  8. Wisdom and honesty and beauty all rolled into one. What a wonderful impact. Shared everywhere. Much joy and happiness to you on your continued journey :-) My first Haven connection <3 <3

    • Kathy

      Life should contain wisdom, beauty and honesty. It’s a matter of opening our minds, eyes and hearts to it. Thank you Suzanne for seeing these in this piece.

  9. Mary, I loved your prose about “…the gift of eternity.” When I read your words, I felt trust. That is a hard thing for me to feel most of the time, and yet your words implored me to believe that my words matter and that they are a “the gift of eternity.” Thank you for sharing your inspiration and wisdom with us.

  10. Kathy, your blog post touched my heart. I’ve been that woman afraid of losing myself, or being swallowed whole, in the wake and lonely grief of losing a child. She and I are kindred souls. Your compassion, persistence and love are remarkable, and I dare say life saving. I am not suggesting the woman suicidal. No, I am rejoicing about how you held the space for her to re-enter the world stage left on her cue. When she was ready and on her terms. That, my friend, is powerful, life-affirming love. The Red Rocks of Sedona is a unique, heart-warming place for me as well. It has been my father’s fountain of youth since the ’70′s, and he is one of my greatest heroes! The canyons and vortexes soothe my soul. I know you two met there for a reason, and I believe that angels live among us. I’m so pleased that you answered the call to write and encourage a stranger. I look forward to reading more by you.

    • Kathy

      Susan, your comment on my blog is heartfelt, stunning and very much appreciated. I’m sorry for your loss. Through my friend I have learned much about grief and grieving. The loss of a child leaves a hole in the parent’s heart that will never be filled.
      Life is funny you never know who is going to show up for you. Meeting Rebecca was meant to be. Her unlikely inspiration gave me motivation to write, her response to my words gave me reason to continue. Yesterday I spent the day helping her pack. Tomorrow she moves from New York to Florida to be near her other son. I’m very happy for her and am sure that my daily musing will continue. She tells me I am writing a book. It’s called “Letters to my Friend.”

  11. Jan Myhre

    Mary, I had no idea I was reading words written by you. When I finished, it was the reference to being a “thread in the tapestry” that sparked a memory for me. Years ago I was involved in a discussion group. We talked about our lives being woven individually and communally. The impact of it all had faded, but your wise words brought it all back. I may have to add it to my love letter to my sons (memoir) and urge them to read that part carefully. Being part of the tapestry of life is what has given my life, thus far, purpose. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. ~J

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