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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)
I scan the gate area for the perfect spot. My two year old is hiked up on my right hip. The carry on strap digs into my shoulder and my other two daughters are hanging on their dad, who is also loaded down with suitcases and bags. I point to a spot with a look.
We crowd in with our pile of bags beside a lone traveller, a woman writing in a notebook on her lap. My husband takes the girls for snacks. I love to watch people, and now’s my chance and sitting right here is a lady of great interest.
I try to act nonchalant as I peek at this writer. She has her feet curled under her like a cat in front of the fireplace all cozy and safe. She is intense and focused and I am fascinated. How does she do it amid the clamour of a busy airport? I fight the urge to lean over and tell her “I, too, am a writer!” and continue pretending to not watch her.
Is it true what I want to say to her? Am I a writer or am I just pretending? She doesn’t seem to have any distractions or excuses. I have plenty of both.
My distractions return with pretzels, juice boxes and gummy bears. I smile at my girls and steal glances at the writer. She flips to a clean sheet of white. Soon it is transformed into loops and lines of black ink. I am in awe. I envy her. I envy her ability to block out all these interesting folks moving in and out of chairs with laptops, iPhones, Kindles, newspapers folded under arm and rolling tiny wheeled suitcases.
My daughters are at the windows pointing “Mommy, look at that plane! Is ours going to be that big?!” I smile and nod, remembering what we are here for. My writing friend continues scrawling – her streaming ink flow doesn’t even flinch at my daughter’s squeals. I want to be this lady. I want use spare moments to capture the spinning thoughts and stories inside me. I used to write on a daily basis, before I had a family, when I was twenty one, unjaded, eager to experience, tromping around the world with my backpack and my best friend, not to write the great novel, but simply because it was a part of who I am. Writing is how I process the world. It is my attempt to document the incredible moments in my life and my way of finding my true self and speaking to the truths deep in my soul. I have been writing my stories since I learned how to use a pencil. That is, until I started all the grown up stuff of marriage, a mortgage and bringing a small tribe of girls into the world. As the airport writer gathers up her things to leave, I make a silent vow: I promise to write. Write in a journal. Write that story burning inside that needs to get out. Write for me. I dig into the bottom of my travel purse and pull out a notebook and pen.
I keep a journal of our family adventures now. I watch people and write scenes and characters inspired by strangers that I observe at the beach, in campgrounds, in airports, at gas stations. These entries will help develop characters in the fictional story I am slowly writing. I am a busy mom but I notice things; I find moments to write, waiting outside the dance studio for my daughters, when the little one is napping, or when the kids watch their favorite Disney movie for the millionth time, I sneak away to the kitchen table even if only for ten minutes. I have learned to use the little bits of time because I don’t have chunks of time to give to myself at this point with a young, on the go family. That doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself and my dreams.
The writer in the airport helped me realize that waiting until “someday” isn’t serving my creative dreams; it isn’t showing up for me. Not long after that trip I stumbled across an ad for Haven Writing Retreats in Montana with author, Laura Munson. I knew this was the opportunity to show up for myself. I attended Haven in September 2014, and it is the best I have given to my creative self. It has been an enduring gift of connectivity with other Haven Alum, the writing souls who support and embrace each other’s talents and passions. My Haven experience continues to inspire my daily writing life. Now that notebook at the bottom of my purse has creased pages with scribbled passages….just the way it ought to be.
- Michelle Irwin
the precipice on which my life either unfurls into infinite possibility or coagulates into mediocre anonymity.
For much of my life, I held strong to the pervasive myth that people either are or are not creative, and as luck would have it, I just wasn’t creative. Bummer.
I took art classes every week in grade school. I played piano from 6 yrs. old through college. Put any piece of music or image in front of me, and I could play it or draw it. Ask me to sit down and improvise, and my heart constricted in my throat and I froze—“I can’t, I’m not creative.”
The weird thing is, my favorite part of art class growing up was abstract watercolor painting. I made stained glass and wrote poetry. I don’t remember a specific event or particularly embarrassing moment that shifted my relationship with creativity from pure joy to pure terror of being negatively judged. One minute I was carefree and imaginative; the next, paralyzed and guarded. I stopped painting. I stopped playing piano. I stopped writing. It was safer to be “not creative” than to be vulnerable.
I see this shift happening with my daughter, and it breaks my heart. She’s 9 years old. She’s supposed to be dreaming up fanciful adventures, not losing sleep over school projects because she’s scared her classmates are going to make fun of her. Because she believes she’s not creative.
After I misplaced half my life hiding in the shadows, I set out on a quest to resuscitate my long-defunct creativity. I signed up for Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection art journaling e-course. Just the idea of joining it made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t an artist or a journaler. I wasn’t creative.
Despite my inner critic, or perhaps in spite of, I took that first tentative step out of the shadows. One of the tools I learned was writing out actual, physical permission slips, giving myself permission to show up authentically in the world. To admit that I’m not perfect, and not let that stop me from doing things that bring me joy. To stop comparing my creativity to others. To make art if I want to, in any form, other people’s opinions be damned.
One day, I wrote out a “someday” bucket list: it included absurdly unrealistic things like “attend a Haven writing retreat” and “perform with Broad Comedy” and “give a TEDx talk”. When I wrote this list, I was terrified to be seen. I hadn’t written anything remotely akin to “creative writing” in over a decade. I couldn’t even read someone else’s poem at an open mic night, much less one of my own.
True to the Universe’s roguish sense of humor, it conspired to make all of these happen in epic ways. The girl who was petrified with stage fright found herself front and center acting, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar…I learned fast. I was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as the closing talk at TEDxBozeman. And I’m on my way to Haven II in January, working on two books.
I could have said no to what could easily have been a disastrous guitar-playing debacle. I could have made excuses about why I couldn’t afford Haven. Yet I couldn’t have. There was something gnawing at me, luring me to step outside of my comfort zone.
For me, it came down to giving myself permission to be vulnerable. That elusive, “I’ll feel better about myself if I write it down but I know these things are so totally unrealistic and out of reach” someday list literally changed my life.
Now that I know what it’s like to give myself permission to show up authentically, especially when it includes feeling vulnerable and taking risks, I can’t imagine going through life any other way.
Here’s the deal. If nothing changes, nothing changes. I can choose to believe the story I’m telling myself about not being creative. Or I can ignore my inner critic and practice owning my imperfection and be inspired by creativity.
Every day I get to choose how I want to show up, and whether creativity will play a part. Truthfully, some days it doesn’t. Most days, it’s non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza, and it takes many forms. It comes as poetry or handmade journals. Taking jazz (improv) piano lessons even though it scares the crap out of me. It can be as simple as writing a haiku for my daughter’s lunch.
What matters is that I remember that creativity is magic. Once we no longer see magic in the world, we lose the ability to fully experience life.
I am no longer willing to accept mediocre anonymity. I choose infinite possibility.
2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule: