I walked out of the bunkhouse and felt the smile move through my body. I love this place, I thought, inhaling the cool, crisp air, its healing tendrils stretching through me. It wasn’t just the air, or the sunlight peeking through the trees, or the mist left from the rain that morning which gave the air its heaviness, or even the tender care of the Dancing Spirit Ranch team. It was the writing. I had all the space I needed to write at this writing retreat.
I feel more me, than I remember being. The thought jumped into my mind, making my smile widen and my brow furrow at the same time.
Looking back, I see both the truth of this statement and the strangeness of it. How can I be less me?
Well, thank you for asking.
Apparently, I can be less me by turning pieces of me off, which is what I did many years ago. Had you asked me in my teens and even into my early 20’s what I really, really, really wanted to be, I would have told you: I want to be a writer. And, looking back with the perspective of a woman in her 40’s, I will admit, I wanted it a lot.
As a very practical person by nature, this was not the career path I pursued. In fact, I didn’t even let myself write for fun after college. Journaling, sure, but making stories up in my head? Creating dialogue? Letting my imagination out on paper? ‘To what end?’ my logical mind asked.
So, here I sit, in a posture abandoned in my 20’s, as well, my knees tucked under my butt, leaning over the table and writing about a time I left a piece of me behind and my journey to reclaim it. That journey started seven months prior, as I was sitting with 200+ strangers at a creativity workshop led by two writers that I admire.
We were halfway through the second day of the workshop when I scrawled a question into my journal, “Are you a writer or not?” The letters were small and illegible, as if I worried that someone would pick up the journal and read the question later and scoff. Moments earlier, it had dawned on one of the leaders of the workshop to pose the following of her audience, “This was billed as a creativity workshop. And, all we’ve had you do is write. I’m wondering, how many of you are not writers?” She paused for a quick tally and observed, “Ok, about half.”
Since I did not raise my hand, I was feeling rather proud of myself. I did not identify as “not a writer.” Maybe, in some deep dark place in my soul, I knew I am a writer! The chills hadn’t even made their way from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes before she followed her question up with, “Ok, how many of you are writers?”
It was here that the bitchy side of myself mentally shouted at her, Hello? Half! I know you are an artist, but come on, lady! This is easy math. If there are two choices and half of the group is one thing, the other half is clearly the other!!
And, yet, I didn’t raise my hand here, either. So, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid question after all.
It’s funny how life can change based on a stranger asking a question to 200 people that seems to be meant just for you. Are you a writer or not, Stephanie? So, here I find myself a year later still trying to own this orphaned piece. Still trying to say “yes” when someone asks me, are you a writer? I’m getting better at it. That piece is growing and getting stronger. Maybe at one time it was like that little plant growing in the fridge in the movie, Wall-E. But now, it’s more like a small garden, growing in an atrium. One day, if I continue to care for it, it might turn into something mesmerizing and powerful like a rain forest.
Because going on a writing retreat helped it grow and reintroduced me to the feeling of knowing myself. Going on a writing retreat gave me permission. Permission to use writing to process grief. Permission to escape into the world of my book. Permission to write poetry. Permission to try and fail. Permission to try and succeed. Permission to be a writer, and, thus, permission to take back this piece that makes me feel more me…than I remembered being.
Working through grief.
An extraordinary relief.
Giddiness, my story.
More me than ever
I remember being
Nicole A Grant – Writing Truth
I make my way to the living room. He has planted himself in the same usual corner of the crimson L-shaped sofa. The television, to my left, would under usual circumstances be tuned into some political talk show, but now stands eerily silent; his cellphone lies face down on the glass-topped coffee table in front of him, an island between us. His attention is single-pointedly affixed in this moment to the screen of his laptop, perched on his knees, a physical blockade; and he holds in his right hand his glass of Pinot noir, an accomplice. My senses heightened, I can almost taste the sweet, oak-wood smell from the way he is swirling his wine, the rest of him moored, immovable as a mountain.
There is a studied perfection to his whole demeanor that makes my hair stand on end. “What is it? What?” I demand. The nervous energy is like a zone of high-tension voltage wires. He says nothing. He doesn’t even look up from the screen on his lap. This lack of basic courtesy irritates me to no end, the way he just ignores me like that, no acknowledgment. The swirling wine and silence are deafening and I so want to say something to mitigate my own discomfort (and irritation), but remain statue-like and dumb. The way he has barricaded himself into a corner with his strategic placement of technological and alcoholic defenses says everything I need to know really, and I know this beyond the level of platitudes at which we have been surviving for far too long now.
I will him to say something, but still he baits me with his silence. My hoarse indignation mounts. For too long I have been striving for answers to questions I don’t know to ask; I have thought myself a fool or crazy for all the confusion I have felt; and the worst of it, I have become this person I don’t want to be because of him, prying, snooping, spying. STOP! I scream inside. I…Just… Want…To…Know. The only certainty I have is that my mind misleads me and cannot be trusted. He looks over at the dark television screen, and I can almost perceive his ruby-red thoughts swirling in synergy with his wine.
Here’s the thing: Alone night-after-night in the queen-sized bed meant for two, the discontent, and more recently, the sheer torment I feel in my relationship to him flow onto the pages of my spiral-bound notebook—I have more than one which tells you something right there. In the dark hours of so many pre-dawn mornings, I take refuge in the all-encompassing silence and the fragrant comfort of coffee and, instead of my allotted meditation practice, allow a waterfall of words to pour from my pen. While my heart splinters, my soul speaks to the page of the very things my eyes cannot see and my mind cannot explain. These words that I have written know the empirical truth, but my mind cannot separate fact from fiction. The brain is always lying it seems, or just plain wrong, but I have an overarching awareness of the truth and, conversely, of my complacency behind not wanting it.
The lack of peaceful coexistence between my wise intuition and my naïve ignorance alerts me to this inner conflict that has the texture of sandpaper and the astringent taste of unsweetened black tea. The fact of the matter is that knowing-for-sure means I’d have to make a decision about what to do, about what comes next. I don’t want to be charged with these decisions; there are children involved, and doing something other than everything else I have already tried means tearing their world (and mine) apart at the seams. What I want is for all of this to go away.
He is speaking now, but my mind cannot process fast enough what my soul already knows. Everything I had construed to be real and true and solid falls away. Yet, in the midst of this, there is absurd relief in knowing that I was led astray by his concoction of mistruths, intentional omissions and unscrupulous deflections, and that I am in fact not crazy or insane; there is absurd relief in not having to participate any longer in this sham of falsehoods and fiction this so-called marriage has become; and there is absurd relief in the fierceness of the fury I feel at having been sucked into this deception and run around in circles like a horse on a tether. I beg for just the smallest of excuses to unleash this smoldering Me-ness that would burn holes through my pages.
And realize, Here I am. I’ve come home.
If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent
Haven Writing Retreat alums!
“Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes! This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA (Occupational Therapist)
“If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift. It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)
“This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.”– Brooke, Vancouver, BC (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)