Category Archives: A Place For Writers To Share

Welcome sisters and brothers in words. Here is a place for inspiration and sharing. I invite you to find haven here. yrs. Laura

Roll Call– What’s in a Name

botticelli_birth_venus_2In preparation for a writer’s lockdown for the next month, I’m reading some of my early Montana musings and learning from myself. This woman was being schooled by her need to see things from the inside out, coming into her intuition. Pour a cup of tea, take a quiet moment, and see if you remember this time in your life.  Maybe it’s right now…

The naming of things. I’ve never been very good at it. Seems so formal. Restrictive.
Babies don’t enter this world with the need to name everything in it. In their estimation, the world is not made up of nouns that must be pointed at; possessed. The world is merely an extension of their little selves, still more soul than flesh. The naming of things, then, becomes a social convenience. But every baby knows that it is not a matter of survival. We forget that, I think, once we discover that our index fingers have power.

It was the Renaissance that brought me around. I was living for a year in Florence, Italy as a student of Art History. The naming of names was not just a practice reserved for museums and classrooms in that boisterous city. Florence sang with names in a full crescendo Verdi. In the dome of the Duomo…Michelangelo… Brunelleschi… the bronzed doors of the Baptistry…Ghiberti…in the cornflower and squash blossom porcelain Madonnas and cherubini in vertical rounds throughout the city…Della Robbia…in the stone walls of the countryside…Etruscans…fig picking in the hills of Chianti…Gallileo… the great Palazzo Medici keeping watch, the spirit of Dante burning for a woman in a small church, the quiet river Arno reminding the Florentines that it can rise and destroy even a Leonardo, but not his name. The names that made their city great are in the hearts and mouths of every Florentine—child, teenager, middle-aged and old; you cannot get through a dinner without being reminded of the Renaissance and the events that led up to it.
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After a while, the novelty of hearing a place in fortissimo twenty-four-seven, became jaded– sinister almost. It was what I imagine the early stages of madness to sound like: a roll call in my mind’s ear– Machiavelli, Raphael, Tiziano, Donatello, Giotto, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca… A simple walk through the city became deafening: San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, Santa Trinita`, Orsanmichele, San Marco, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito—with always this maniac coloratura: Michelangelo…Michelangelo. One foot into the Uffizi museum and the brain throbbed with it. Like a horror film shooting from every angle—there: the famous angel playing the lute up in a corner almost lost in the red dark velvet. There: the reds and blues of Raphael…there: the fair pinks and periwinkles of Fra Angelico…there: the structure and hulk of the Michelangelos, the red crayon of the de Vincis pulsing three dimensional on a sheet of paper. And always those eyes of the Botticelli divas.
There was no relief, no sanctuary. How could I sit in a café drinking espresso when The David was within walking distance? How many times should a girl spending a year in Florence visit the David before she really knows the David? Once a day? Twice a week. Twice a day? And what about the Slaves? Don’t forget them in their eternal half-emergence from their Carraran marble tombs. What about the unending palazzos, piazzas, chiesas, ponte? The tapestries and frescoes, the nunneries and the catacombs, and the gardens—the gardens? Every moment of looking down was a promise of missing the name that would surely be there should I look up.
But what about the tomatoes? The long stemmed artichokes and blood oranges, the walnuts and purple figs and hot chocolate so thick it hangs at the end of your spoon? What about the little forgotten churches, cold and wet, with a quartet practicing Vivaldi in the apse?
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One day, I folded under the aural heft of it. I turned from the gallery of the Uffizi I had been skimming, and I ran—past Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Michelangelos’ Holy Family, Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino– past postcard vendors and character artists’ easels—past whizzing Vespas and women walking arm in arm– down to the Arno, where in a full sweat, I vomited. And I watched the voices drown in the steady slow stink until they were gone.
“You’re one of the lucky dozen,” said an old Italian man pointing at me with his cane as if he had been sent from the Renaissance to rub salt in my country’s artistic wound.
“Scusi?” I said.
“Il Stendhalismo. Stendhal’s Disease. Dizzy in the head and the stomach from all the art of Firenze. At least a dozen tourists get it every year.”
“But I live here,” I managed to say in my borderline Italian.
He smiled and shrugged and walked off as quickly as he had appeared.
I made a pact then. I would leave one museum unseen. Unheard. Its faces un-named. The other famous Florentine museum: The Bargello. I would save it. And instead, I would go slowly through the halls of the Uffizi for one year until the voices simmered to a whisper, or better, became woven into my heartbeat like a monk’s prayer.
It worked. Months later, I made my usual pass along the wall which holds the Birth of Venus, and stopped dead center. Not because I wanted to name her, but because I needed to forget a lost love– stare at something so beautiful, it would flush the hurt away. I stared into her wise eyes and her figure started to tunnel out of the painting toward me with a promise: she would clean away my heartbreak if I would not close my eyes. So I stood there, my eyes fixed on hers until they stung, museum patrons coming and going, reading the plaque beside her, saying the word Botticelli and leaving, and I stayed until there were sea-cleaned tears falling down my cheeks. Now, when I look into the eyes of the Venus on the half shell, I do not need to say Botticelli in order to believe in her perfect flaxen place in land, sea and sky.
I spent my last day in Florence making a café latte last four hours in my favorite outdoor café, around the corner from the Uffizi, one piazza away from the Bargello. I needed to return to the States with the taste of espresso in my mouth and the stink of the Arno in my nose and the perfume of squashed tomatoes fallen from street vendors, the sound of the horses’ hoofs and high-heeled shoes on the cobblestones. I did not hear Puccini or Verdi, not even in a pianissimo.
Instead, I overheard some tourists talking on the street corner, clad in money belts and brand new Nike sneakers. “Yeah, it’s been an awesome two weeks,” one said to the other similarly vested American, introducing herself. “First we did Paris, and then we did Madrid, then we did Milan, today and tomorrow we’re doing Florence, and then we’re doing Rome for a few days and flying back.”
That sealed it. I did not do Florence. I learned that year that a place cannot be done. Whether you have one minute in it, or an entire lifetime. The ultimate difference between doing a place and being in a place, I suppose, has to do with an openness, but too, the privilege of time. I will never know Florence like the Florentines do. But I understand the place past the name. And I understand that a name is just a name perhaps, until you have sat for many hours, and sipped a cup of coffee knowing it is there, around the corner. Having surrendered a lover in its midst. Trusting that it can clean you the next time you look it in the eye.
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***
It took three years of living in Montana before it dawned on me that all cone-bearing trees are not called Pine trees. It took me five years of living in Montana before I could see that the structure of the distant hills was different from hill to hill. Six, before I could see what the hills were made of. Seven before I would stop and stare at a Hemlock and wonder why there were not, then, Cedars or Subalpine Fir dwelling nearby. Eight before I could tell when the Larch were just about to go as flaxen as the Botticelli Venus, before they went bare and asleep. And I got stuck there at eight for a while because I decided it was time for field guides and the naming of names—and suddenly my pack became heavy with books on wildflowers, trees, scat and track identification, and binoculars, and my walks in the woods were half spent with my nose in a topographical map. Suddenly my walks in the woods were like my early walks through the galleries of the Uffizi, with a running commentary of names: Fir, Larch, Subalpine Fir, Grand Fir, Cedar, Hemlock, Lodgepole, Ponderosa. And I was not seeing the forest anymore.
So I backed off. Lost the field guides and maps. Started riding horses and not carrying anything but a bottle of water and a piece of fruit. I cantered through the woods so that the trees were in constant blur, hoping that with my new vantage point, I might not see a Larch and think: Larch. And that brought me through to nine. My ninth year. Now. Today. When the forest started to sing.
I was sitting at a glacial lake, ten or so miles from home, not remembering that it was late September and that the ten o’clock sunsets are a thing of summer past. I had come to the woods not in the pursuit of trees, and not to forget a lost love, but to forget a potential one.
My husband announced that morning that he wanted to be scientifically done with our life “as breeders.” No more kids. I heard bits and pieces of it—one of each…enough for both sets of arms…we fit just right in a canoe…airplanes trips still affordable…college tuition possibly manageable if we start saving now…no shared bedrooms…we can take that trip back to Italy you’ve been talking about since I met you—show the kids all those paintings you love so much.
“I’m done,” he said. I heard that loud and clear. He wanted to know that I was okay with that.
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So I lost light tonight at the lake, thinking about the fact that we humans have one miracle left that we can at least court, if not perform. An outward and visible sign, I think the Sunday school quote goes. Still, left up to Mystery, but perhaps, if all goes well, possible. One last stroke at genius—one last connection to the Creator. One last place of true breathlessness. Surrender.
And he wanted to cut off that line to Divinity in a matter of a few minutes in a fluorescent-lit doctor’s office, all for a small fee. “I think insurance pays for most of it,” he said.
I lost light watching the last of the bug hatches, and the fish rising and the clouds going crimson, breathing shallow little strikes at feeling okay about the last of my motherhood. No more would my belly swell with life kicking and swimming inside me like that mountain lake. I tried to force a cavalier alliance to population control. But it seemed all wrong, no matter how I tried to wrap my mind around it.
And then it didn’t matter, because it was dark. And I was far from home. And I wasn’t sure I knew my way. I’d always heard that horses did, but there were steep cliffs my horse was willing to go down in the dark that I wasn’t, and so I needed to be her guide. And I didn’t feel like I could be anyone’s guide just then.
I mounted and, loose-reined, she led me to the trail. The moon was a thin crescent—not much for lighting paths through thick stands of Fir and Larch. I turned her one way and she hesitated, ever-loyal, and I made my mind blank. Putting take me home…make my decision for me…into a parcel of intention she might be able to translate; horses are the most intuitive animals I have ever shared dark or light with. She stepped forward and I went with her into the dark woods. And I went like that for what seemed like miles and miles, not being able to see the trail, not really caring all that much, mourning my unborn children, trusting.
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And then I thought about the Venus. How she asked me to stare into her, believe in her until my eyes stung with her cleansing power. I let out a sigh then. And my horse stopped. We were at an old granddaddy of a Douglas Fir that I recognized; it was the one that stood alone in the clear-cut, like some logger had just been too taken by it to cut it down. My horse was still; dormant. I looked up into its branches; they were full and architectural. Second growth. Maybe third. But statuesque and mighty in a way trees aren’t allowed to be around here much anymore.
I let my head fall back against my shoulders and sighed and let my breath rise up into its branches the way I had let the Venus pull out of her painting. And I held and it stung, only not in my eyes, but in my ears this time. And I did not say, Douglas Fir. I said, “Thank you.”
And we went then, through the next few undulations of forest until we were climbing the steep hill home. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it for all its silence. And I could smell it, for all its running sap. Rotting stumps. Dusty bottom.
I leaned forward on my mare’s neck, holding her mane. And we crested the ridge. Then back I leaned, holding firm with my knees, letting my hips go loose in her rhythm. Hearing the scuttle of scrim and glacial tilth, grinding under-hoof. The rustling of scrubby brush and nocturnal beasts, not the sort to trust daylight at all.
On the flat ground, we cantered. I held on to her mane, breathless in the dark. And I did the reverse. I closed my eyes.
I felt it: clean.
And the forest sang us home.

To plug into your intuition through the power of words and Montana…come to a Haven Writing Retreat this Fall 2017

September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts, Stories

5 Tips for Powerful Writing

Teaching Haven Writing Worshop

Teaching Haven Writing Worshop

Haven Writing Retreat 2016 Schedule:

June 8-12 (STILL ROOM!)
June 22-26 (FULL WITH WAIT LIST)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

If you want to write more powerfully no matter whether it’s the next great novel or memoir, or simply emails to friends, family and colleagues, journal entries,  speeches or presentations for work, or even your holiday card letter…here are some words that might help, inspired by Girl Friday Productions– one stop shopping for writers of all levels. I have personally used their services and all Haven Writing Retreat alums get a special Haven rate!  I wish I’d had them at my table a long time ago…  Here are their great questions, and my responses.  Hope they help!

  1. You wrote a widely read memoir (as well as an essay that went viral) about a very difficult period in your life. What is it like for you to have the public know so much about your personal life? And what advice do you offer to writers who are confronting something deeply personal or even traumatic in their own work?

With memoir, the inherent difficulty is that we’re exposing ourselves, and likely others, and it’s usually driven by a difficult time in our lives; otherwise we wouldn’t have a story to tell. Here’s what we as memoir writers must hold fast to our hearts: why we’re doing it in the first place. We must be intentional about why we write. My statement of intention is: I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others. And I believe that if we shine a light on ourselves in memoir, claiming responsibility for our experience and trying to parse it rather than pointing the finger, then we can pretty much write about anything. We have to write past fear of exposure, and it helps to understand that by sharing our story, we are writing out of service to ourselves and others. If, at the very least, telling our story helps people to know they’re not alone.

  1. You’ve written both memoir and fiction. What are the biggest challenges of each? What is most satisfying about each?

I think the biggest challenge of memoir is crafting it into a story. The harsh reality is that just because we go through something profound for us that we want to chronicle in a memoir . . . it doesn’t mean that other people care about it like we do. Memoirists can lose sight of this. The story needs to unfold like a novel, even though it’s nonfiction. Whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, however, the structure is critical, and not necessarily linear in its delivery.

I find that it helps to create an outline, even if the book takes on a different form in the end. You have to know where you’re going and why, what’s at stake, and what the central conflict is and make sure there’s some sort of resolve at the end. Ultimately, though, in all forms of writing, it’s about what’s behind the words, what’s in between them, and what’s in their wake.

  1. What makes a good writing environment for you? What are your writing habits, and what makes you keep coming back to the page again and again?

I have been writing for three decades every day, not because I’m highly disciplined, but because I’m obsessed. It’s not much more elegant than that. My writing is a movable feast. I’ve written on the backs of cocktail napkins when I bartended, in the margins of newspapers on commutes, in my journal, on various screens and devices. I make time to write every day no matter what, and the time frame varies. Even if it’s for a short amount of time and even if it’s for my eyes only. It’s a matter of asking myself what shall I write, what do I care about, what confuses me, what do I need to understand? And then I write my way into the answer.

  1. You lead writing retreats that focus on giving writers at all stages of their practice an accepting place to do their work and connect with other writers. What do you think makes a good writing community? What can imperil one?

There are all sorts of writing communities. The main thing is that every writer finds one. I did it alone for too many years, either because I was too stubborn or too scared. Then I started Haven, and I realized what was missing in my writing life. Support! Kindreds! Willing and helpful feedback! Writing is hard work in every way. The truth is: no one asked us to be writers. It’s actually rather inconvenient for our loved ones and colleagues. And that makes it even more critical that we find our kindreds. In my work with Haven, I’ve chiseled too many people out of negative writing experiences in workshops, classes, writing groups, and even MFA programs. I believe in academia, but I don’t believe that you need academia to be a strong writer. You need awareness, stamina, and support. So be choosy when you sign up for any sort of group writing adventure. If anyone is promising you five easy steps to getting published or setting themselves up to be a guru . . . run for the hills!

  1. For writers who aren’t able to come to something like a Haven retreat, what is your advice for creating a productive and supportive environment in which to pursue their writing dreams?

Let’s face it: we’re not going to do anything consistently, especially something hard, unless there’s a payoff. I treat my writing practice like I’m a little girl getting away with something, like I’ve faked sick from school and am at home in bed. In fact, I often write in bed. In other words, I make it comfortable for myself to go into subjects that are often very uncomfortable. I delight in my writing practice. I value the role it plays in my life. My best advice for writers is to find your most natural voice on the page. Don’t try to force it. Find the flow that already comes out of you, even if it’s like a tiny stream rather than a roaring river. That means you might not write every day. So what? Find a writing practice that works for you based on your true self—your habits, your personality, your responsibilities, your real life. And commit to it. Start small, like with working out. Three times a week from 10:00 a.m. to noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? Saturday morning? Twenty minutes before you get out of bed? Make it work based on who you truly are, not who you think you should be or how other people do it. And no matter what, find delight in it. Writing has the power to transform your life. It’s something that you can control. And all it takes is a pen, a piece of paper, and an open heart.

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Inspiration from Haven Writing Retreats

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Ode to Jim Harrison

At The Wagon Wheel in Patagonia, AZ

Now Booking our Haven Writing Retreat 2016 calendar

June 8-12 (still room)
June 22-26 (full)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Ode to Jim 

(1937-2016)
I have started nearly every day of my writing life by reading some sort of Jim Harrison. A line of poetry, a poem, five poems, a few words in a novel, an essay. I try to keep it short. I have to pull myself away before I lose hours. I’ve been doing this since I was 18 and a 19 year boy gave me Dalva. He also gave me e. e. cummings and “Letters to a Young Poet.” So I was set for awhile. But it was Harrison that I was addicted to. You never forget your first Harrison. Or you don’t get him at all. I got him.

He was from the Midwest. I was too. He sorted things out by walking in the woods. I did my best, in the suburbs of Chicago and every summer in the woods of northern Wisconsin, not far from his Upper Peninsula. He was a sensualist. I was too. He gravitated toward edges and defied the middle ground. I did too, but only few told me that was okay– and all of them on the page, namely Jim.

I longed to meet him in person, but perhaps it was better because he did and wrote and felt things that made me blush as a teenaged young woman.  But I read on, because knowing that he went so far out to the edge and got cut there and stayed there bleeding, helped me to take my place behind him, on safer ground.  Still to peer over his shoulder….and wonder about what life could be like if I really lived the wilderness that was in me.  If I was willing to be that honest.  Jim Harrison was honest.  I wanted to be that kind of honest.

I read him all of my 18th summer and knew that I was moving in a totally different direction than the one I had been raised to embrace. I studied how he could make a bird holy in just a few words of poetry. And how he could do the same with the word Fuck. And when I moved to Montana almost ten years later, and found out that he had left the Midwest behind for big sky country as well, I learned how to let Montana be my muse. I walked alone in places that scared me because of him. I went to snow goose migrations because of him. I sat on rocks and logs and stumps and river beds because of him. I paid attention to birds because of him. I went into sketchy small town roadside bars because of him. And I wrote it all down in my own way with voracity that I learned from him.28HARRISON-OBIT-articleLarge

Jim taught me that saints are everywhere. Now he is a saint. Now he’s free of the edge. Now he is all big sky. But damn…I am on-my-knees sad. I will miss you. Thank you for writing so many books. And for the kindness you showed me when we finally connected person to person, and not just heart to word to heart.

I have over 30 letters to Jim Harrison that I never had the courage to send. They were all weepy and whiny and I’m glad I spared him of that. When I finally did send him a letter, it was because I was going camping with my family in southern Arizona and had read that he had a home down there when he wasn’t in Montana. It was a famous bird watching area and I wrote him for advice about where to camp. And then at the end I hazarded these words: “We’d love to meet you for a drink if you’re around.”

I got an email back in a matter of hours. He told us where to go (which turned into a major adventure including wide open sun-caked tundra, more raptors in one place than I’ve ever seen, and helicopters lifting Mexicans out of the fields around our camper at 5:00 am). And he wrote these words that were better than “this one we’re going to publish” from the New York TimesModern Love’ column that launched my whole career. They were, “Usually I can be found around 4:00 at the Wagon Wheel, trying to hydrate.”

I met him there. And that is a story which deserves its own personal essay. For now, in honor of writers who help writers by writing, by bleeding, and by meeting them for a drink, I’d like to share a letter I sent to Jim after my book came out, in addition to my other two mentors (although they wouldn’t ever want to be called such a thing, so I’ll leave out their last names.)

Thank you, Jim, for helping me learn how to think, how to breathe, and how to walk in the woods. And thusly, how to write. Rest in peace. I will never stop being honored by the help you gave me along the way in so many forms.  I’m so sad I haven’t gotten the novel published that you promised to blurb…but you can bet that when I do…there will be a bottle of Domaine Tempier involved, and a big-sky-sized toast to you.

Yrs. (my sign off, which I lifted from you. I’m not sure if it means Years or Yours, but I’ll take both.)

Laura

Here is a  letter on the myth of success and the importance of helping people who are kindreds…

January 29, 2011Harrisonobit1-blog427

Dear Terry, David, and Jim,

I’m writing to you from a sky-dripping grey day in Whitefish, MT where I’ve been holed up all winter trying to remember how to breathe and write novels after the fog of getting a book published, going on tour, national television, and countless radio interviews. It’s felt like all I can do to not get “spiritually scummed,” as David once put it. He was talking about hospital ICUs, not authorly success…but I have found the two to be quite similar in more ways than one, the largest being the need for oxygen and IV fluids. Getting up and speaking about something that you wrote is a little sick. You already gave it to the reader the best way you could in the book. Feels like it’s between the two of them now. But I happened to write a book about a season of my life and people have questions and a lot of times they ask them with tears in their eyes and quivering lips…and like you all have helped me, I want to help them. Especially if they’re writers.

I have used your personally famous line a few times, Terry, when my gut tells me to: “Oh sister in words, what can I do, how can I help?” I just got back from a week in Arizona doing readings and catching up on some much needed vitamin D and thought you of you, Jim, down there in Patagonia with the Elegant Trogons and the Wagon Wheel, thinking that writers need to move around with the birds every so often. Writing with one raven against an ashen sky for four months means things can get a little bleak on the page. I feel renewed, and in honor of that, I’m writing you all this letter, which is one of thanks and also musing. I hope it finds you all very well and your muse plump and ready for more.

Well, you were right, David: “The only difference between being published and not being published is being published.” And you, Jim: “Somebody’s got to get published, any why can’t it be you.” And you, Terry: “Stop trying to get published and write your story.” Three sagacious lines that have held me through the years in the palms of their/your hands and kept me nested when I needed it most. I truly feel that no one in the world quite understands why I live this life the way I do more than you three. I’m sure there are more, but it’s you three in whom I rest.

This year I fledged.

So I thought you might relate with what my current book is about:  The myth of “success.” It’s one I worshiped for too many years and that you all warned me about in your own way. It’s the Green Flash I’ve been waiting for at every beach sunset I’ve watched since 1988, begging “Please let me get published to wide acclaim.” That’s the pathetic prayer I prayed, I’m embarrassed to admit. I ruined a lot of perfectly good sunsets over the years, crying. Probably missed a lot of green flashes too, though I’d like to chalk them up to myth because when we’re waiting, we’re not creating. We’re victims. I got really sick of that. I’d much rather answer the questions: what can I create? 

A person who hasn’t prayed that prayer can’t really understand the destructive nature of this myth. I’m out to bust it. Now, on the other side of that flung beg (I’m not going to call it a prayer—it’s a beg), I can see that all “success” is– the way society spins it, anyhow, is getting paid for something you created, and having people assign it power. But all that’s really there is the waking up and creating something else and sending it out to the powers that be who might pay a bit more attention to you, because of the way that people assigned you power. Or not. It’s all in the creating. It’s all in doing the work. I’ve never had a problem with that, so I think I’ll be able to handle this “cherry popping” (that was for you, Jim) that is becoming a published writer.

I can see that it is possible to go entirely insane running around the country speaking in front of crowds of people who ask the same questions over and over, only to detox from it in a lonely hotel room or a lonely airplane cabin, even though I try to call them womblike to trick my brain. Truth be told, they both smell sickly and inspire a fierce claustrophobia that I have to work hard to quell…and in each, I can’t help thinking about humanity boiled down to basic needs. It happens every time: standing in the airport security line, I can’t stop thinking, wow—all these people have had sex. All these people have lost someone they love. All these people are afraid of dying today—falling from the sky. Or have managed to click into auto mode and are so much the walking dead that I start to feel like if I make eye contact with any of them, they’ll rub off all my edges. In hotel rooms, it’s more the lack of those people, and even more their ghosts.

Hemingway said he could never write anything in the cabin of an airplane and I’m with him. I usually just sit there and tell myself that I’m lucky that a metal mechanized bird can swoop me across the country and deposit me safely to a new adventure. If I do write anything, it’s all about this, so my journals are almost entirely made up of fright, panic, and phobia. (Jim, thank you for our conversation about this.  It helped).  I never seem to write in my journal these days unless I’m travelling, in fact, so if anyone ever reads these journals from this manic “successful” period of my life, I’m sure I’ll be considered a total freak. And maybe I am.

But if there’s anyone who I know won’t judge me for it, it’s you three. And that’s another reason why I feel so grateful that you landed in my life, on the page and in person. Thank you for being fellow “freaks,” Terry you being more like a saint, but there must be something in you which knows exactly what I’m talking about. David and Jim, you are both legitimate freak/saints and you know how I feel about you.

I’ll sign off now. I don’t know if I’ll write another book of non-fiction. You’ve all done it too and you know that treacherous terrain of exposure. I wrote my book because I needed to process a brutal time of rejection in my life and knew that it would help people know that they’re not alone and that they have options.  Dealing with rejection is familiar terrain for writers, and it was an interesting act of prestidigitation (learned that word from you, David), to apply that to a marital crisis.  I’ve heard from people all over the world and it’s been one of the most powerful experiences of my life, so I guess it was worth it. Heart language is heart language and it has its ripples.

Thank you three for speaking this language on the page, and to me. And Jim, thank you for letting me use your poems as bookends in my memoir. Every time I feel ashamed that I have exposed myself too much on the page, I feel held in their warm embrace.

Whenever I hear the jack-hammering of the pileated woodpecker, I think of the sound of the delete key through a long sentence that you had to write, but that serves no one in the end. Part of me wants to do that with this letter and leave you all alone. The other part knows that writers need to be thanked. And that the legacy of that fact never dies as long as there are printed words…

Yrs. 

Laura

Lastly…because I could devote an entire blog to Jim Harrison.  One post just isn’t enough…

One of my favorite Harrison poems is called “Counting Birds” in which he confesses that he has been counting birds since he was a child. It ends:

“On my death bed I’ll write this secret
Number on a slip of paper and pass
It to my wife and two daughters.
It will be a hot evening in late June
And they might be glancing out the window
At the thunderstorm’s approach from the west.
Looking past their eyes and a dead fly
On the window screen I’ll wonder
If there’s a bird waiting for me in the onrushing clouds.
O birds, I’ll sing to myself, you’ve carried
Me along on this bloody voyage,
Carry me now into that cloud,
Into the marvel of this final night.”
–From The Theory and Practice of Rivers (Clark City Press)

May you be carried…Jim Harrison. Peace.

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If you have said, “I am not Creative,” Read This!

CoverHaven Writing Retreat schedule 2015 (you do not need to be a writer to come– just a seeker…)

June 3-7 (only a few spots left!!!)
June 17-21 (full)

Now Booking:
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

“Everyone is an artist, and our materials are all about us. To use them, you must see them, and to see them, you must accept that they exist.”  — Bill Kenower

People tell me all the time, “I’m not creative.”  This is simply not true.  We are all creative.  We choose the clothes we put on, the way our living room looks, the words that come out of our mouth.  Usually this is a reaction, sometimes a violent one, to something that someone told us along the way.  “You’re a jock.”  “You’re a brain.”  “You’re artsy.”  Which is to say, that for the most part, we filled in the blank with: “I’m this, not that.”  While this may be true of some things, it is not true about creativity.  Everything we do, no matter what we’re good at or what roles we have chosen in life, EVERYTHING requires creativity.

Not a believer?  Usually it’s because we run into these roadblocks:

  • We think we need to seem smart, or smarter
  • We think we are not original enough
  • We think we need to belong to some sort of method or way or institution for validation
  • We think that we need to have certain accolades
  • We think that someone already did it better than we ever could
  • We think we are just plain not enough

In his wonderful book, “Write Within Yourself:  An Author’s Companion, my friend, the author, speaker, and founder of Author Magazine, Bill Kenower, wrote a wonderful chapter about this topic which helps us see our way through these roadblocks.  He helps us see that we don’t need to try so hard to tap into our creative flow.  It’s right there where we live.  In the way our heart beats, in the way we breathe, in the way we cry and laugh and dance.class

It’s the same thing I tell my Haven Writing Retreat attendees over and over again:  go where you feel most natural, where you feel most at ease.  It does not have to be hard.  That’s not to say that the subject isn’t difficult to face or the details aren’t hard to extract or develop.  It’s that the theme and the attraction to it must be honest and charged with something that comes from deep inside you, something that is already flowing.  You just need to accept it and enter into that flow.  It is in this natural state that you become hungry for what makes your creativity unique, and without-a-doubt:  ENOUGH.

Excerpt from the book:  “Write Within Yourself:  An Author’s Companion” by William Kenower1275_10151421704756266_1852761235_n

WHERE YOU ARE

Though it can seem strangely counterintuitive, the quickest way to change something is to first accept it. Or to put it another way, no matter where you may think you want to be, you are where you are.

For instance, there was a low time in my life when nothing interesting or satisfying seemed to be happening. This puzzled me. I felt capable; I felt curious; I felt creative; I felt ambitious—and yet, nothing seemed to happen.  All was rejection and disappointment.  During this period, I spent a lot of time living in my imagination. In my imagination, things were happening. In my imagination, I was having all kinds of marvelous success, meeting all kinds of interesting people, going to all kinds of interesting places.writers_writing_2

I suppose I can’t be blamed for retreating into my imagination. I was a writer, after all, and by necessity I spent a lot of time there. I learned to create interesting worlds in my imagination, so why not visit one such world if my world seemed less than interesting? It was a pleasant way to pass the time until things in my real world got interesting.

And then one day I was taking a walk, swimming as always in my imaginary waters, when something—literally—stopped me. Here I was making, and making, and making this happy imaginary world for myself that was really not making me any happier at all. It only made me happy as long as I hid there. I stood where I was, and I asked this question, “What could you make with this world?”10430493_10152074148911266_2767363178567064548_n

And as I asked this question, the world around me changed. I saw it all—the bushes, the pond, the birds—as clay. All of it was material. What could I make with where I actually was? Why not start there and see where it goes?

laughThis is why every spiritual doctrine in history teaches acceptance. Acceptance is not passive. Acceptance is not capitulation. Acceptance is an understanding that to create, no matter what you want, you must begin by working with what you have, with where you are. If you resist where you are, you only create an imaginary world where you are not where you are. Everyone is an artist, and our materials are all about us. To use them, you must see them, and to see them, you must accept that they exist.

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Create Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015

as seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write in a solitude born out of community”—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where hundreds of people have come in the last three years to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page. That is my invitation to them. That is my only promise: we will dig deeply and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community. My call: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction.

This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later. This is what can happen when people gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.

I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

Be careful if you want to go on a writing retreat. I designed the retreat that I would want to go on, so Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no slick method to find your voice, no guru to worship. No gift shop, no 5-step DVD.

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Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done.

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. And I couldn’t understand why the product wasn’t landing in people’s hearts. I longed to be published and to every sinking sun I begged: Please let me be published to wide acclaim.

And then one day, after years of struggle, writing book after book, story after story, essay after essay, and always a journal nearby, I asked myself why. Why? Why this pain from something I was devoting my life to? At that time, I had learned my craft well enough to land an excellent New York agent who had gained the attention of some major publishing houses. There was hope that my words would land in readers’ laps to a significant degree. But things kept breaking down in the end, and I was bereft.

So I looked into a blank page, as was my practice, my most safe and dangerous place, and asked m

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yself: Why do I write? This is what came out:I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others. It floored me. Relief? Service? Not just Sense? That changed everything.

If I was writing to help, I needed a new perspective. And that perspective felt spacious. Expansive. Full of possibility. I had already cultivated a hunger for my seeking spirit on the page. In-so-doing, maybe it was possible to help others do the same just by relating with my raw real journey. And THAT’S when I got published. Well-published.

New York Times best-selling author published. Suddenly I was on major media, driving around in limos, going to the book signings of my dreams. It was powerful, but nothing in comparison to the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and what our stories want to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it.

To show up for it every day and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this writing thing is all about: it’s in the ability to give ourselves permission to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it.

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A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana winter skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community.

The next Haven Retreat is at the incredible Ranch at Rock Creek

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April 29th-May 3rd

For more info, email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com


 

 

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What to keep. What to give away.

booksOwnership.  Protection.  Chest-your-cards.  Stand guard.  These are words I wouldn’t normally place on my writing.  I’ve never worried that someone would steal my ideas.  I’ve never worried about copyrighting my words.  I’ve simply written with the baseline belief that we are all in this lifetime together, and there is simply no possible way that I can write like someone else or that they can write like me.  Even if we tried.  In the memoir I published, I could have easily thought, “Why even bother to submit it, never mind write it in the first place.  The entry-point is a marital crisis.  Who cares.  It’s been done a million times.  The subject is as worn as my cowboy boots.”  But I don’t think that way.  I know that each one of us has a completely unique voice.  I watch this being proven every time I lead a Haven Writing Retreat.  I give a prompt to a group of ten people (myself included) and off we go.  When the timer rings, we read.  And every time, I stand in awe as ten voices go in ten totally different directions off of the same launch pad.  It’s miraculous, the human mind, when it is mixed with heart language.

That said, I was deeply moved by something my writer friend Bill Kenower wrote on his blog recently.  He is a true author advocate via his Author Magazine and Author 2 Author radio show, and thusly does a lot of musing upon what makes writers tick.  His words:  “When an author gives away her story, she remembers that just as what had seemed like hers now belongs to everyone, what had also appeared to belong to others now belongs to her. There is always enough, because everything that matters already belongs to everyone.”   This is the definition of abundant thinking.  The opposite end of the spectrum which might lead one to guard themselves as a writer or as a reader. 

Writers mine their lives, whether in fiction or non-fiction.  Even with journalism where opinions belong in invisible ink, you can bet that writer is still feeling the person they’re interviewing or the scene they are reporting.  Life offers stories and writers hold up the mirror to remind us that we’re all in this together.  Sometimes however, as Bill points out, that act of holding up the mirror feels so intimate, that writers choose to leave the world alone to sit on the front stoop and just watch it all going by without a lot of fuss.  To lie naked in bed on a summer morning, staring out the window at the breeze in the trees– each of us in our own rooms to hold up our own mirrors should we choose.

As writers, we’re grateful for the stories the world serves up, but perhaps in the end, to Bill’s point, some of those stories as we perceive them, belong to us.  (Just as many of the world’s stories belong to the world.)  It’s true that I have written fourteen books.  Actually, fifteen and a half now.  And it’s true that I have only submitted a handful of them for publication.  Many of them are exercises in learning.  Some of them are pretty good.  But not all of them feel like they want to make the voyage outside of my office closet in Montana where they have been minding their own business and keeping me company from time to time—maybe more like standing as gatekeepers—for decades.  They are reminders that I do this thing called writing.  That I show up for it, open that vein and bleed til the end.  Having readers does not necessarily make it more real.  Or more complete.

That may sound crazy.  Why would someone spend so much time creating a world made of words, pouring her heart into characters whose voices may never be heard?  Well I’ll tell you exactly why:  if a writer is holding up a mirror, she needs a mirror to hold up in the first place.  And creating that mirror takes just about everything I’ve got.  And sometimes…that mirror is best turned upon myself.

Thank you, Bill, for helping me to feel better about my closet, then, of gatekeepers.  They are stalwart, true, and for now…mute to everybody but me.  Hopefully the books I am writing now will take a different voyage.  But whether or not they do, I know that I will have been better for writing them. 

Here is Bill’s blog post:

My friend Laura Munson recently published an article in The Week about her choice to step back from a familial leaning toward hoarding. It’s a funny and touching piece in which she describes a frank conversation with her daughter about the habit to keep everything from a 50-year-old pair of socks to bottles that can someday be reused as vases. I don’t believe it gives too much away to tell you that the article ends with Laura and her daughter taking a long overdue trip to Goodwill to give away all that had been stored in crawl spaces, closets, and forgotten corners of her garage.

The piece deals with physical things, of course, but it reminded me of another story she had told me years before. Laura is the author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is, a memoir she published after having written and not published fourteen novels. In one of our many interviews, she confessed that she didn’t even submit all the novels she wrote. She worked and worked on them, loved them, and then kept them to herself.

This is a more common impulse for a creative person than you might think. Eventually, every writer learns that the story doesn’t really belong to her. The moment another person reads our story, they make it their own, using their own imaginations to complete the scenes we painted with only a few strokes. Moreover, it is the reader feeling the heroine’s fear and loss and love and joy. What is more personal to us than what we feel? It doesn’t matter that what we feel grows from a story someone else wrote: that experience is ours, and so that story is ours as well.

Which is why an author gives away every story he or she writes. You may get paid, but you are still giving it away, casting it from the nest to a world where anyone who wants it can make it their own. In this way, we are all Communists of the heart. When an author gives away her story, she remembers that just as what had seemed like hers now belongs to everyone, what had also appeared to belong to others now belongs to her. There is always enough, because everything that matters already belongs to everyone.

 

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Haven Retreats in the top five! Come explore your unique voice with me in Montana!

2014 Haven Writing Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana
September 10-14 (one spot left)
September 24-28 (FULL)
October 8-12 (limited space)
October 22-26 (limited space)

email Laura for more info: laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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Testimonial: Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more. My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment. Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven. The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right. I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TX

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Blog Hop– Writers Writing

Over and over, I say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life. I’ve always written. For the most part it’s because it helps me to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I also write for a lot less elegant of a reason: I’m obsessed. I can’t not do it. I like to play around with words and push them to their limit of meaning, mix them up with words they don’t “go” with and feel their energy and flicker. I like to step directly into uncomfortable places on the page and make stuff up, climb into shoes I couldn’t in my “real life” and experience the empathic journey through an old woman with dementia, or a homeless teenager, or a man who lives in a small village in Africa. So in short, I’m an obsessed empathy junkie, with an addiction to words.

It’s always been this way. I’ve written all my life, and in my adult life I’ve completed fourteen novels—not all good, but a few of them publishable. I wrote when I had three jobs, when I had small children, when I finally had a book published and was in the thick of promotion, reeling with sudden fantasy accolades like the New York Times best-seller list and long-dreamed experiences like going on Good Morning America, NPR, and much much more. (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is– Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) But what I’ve learned in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” is that what really matters is doing the work. The writing. Writing is just what I do—it’s how I’m wired. I’m no good at getting to the gym or balancing my checkbook, but I know what it is to sit at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and I’ve done it with all my might for a long time.

Turns out…this is an uncommon way to live. Not a lot of people know how to climb into that uncomfortable but enchanted playground and play, skin their knee, fall off the merry-go-round, pump so hard on the swing they swear their sneakers touch the sky. That’s why I started my Haven Writing Retreats a few years ago. I want to help people play the way I know how to play, for their own creative process, but also to help them process life. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, mostly in Montana where I live, but also across the US, and abroad. It is such an honor to help facilitate creative self-expression and to help people develop their unique writing voice, whether or not my attendees are “writers.” Everyone who comes to Haven shares one thing in common: they are seekers. I love being in the midst of ten minds and seeing where they go. It’s the best wine I have ever tasted. (And it’s absolutely ruined my ability to make small-talk in the grocery store, so if you see me in the green grocer section, I apologize in advance!)

I’m telling you all this because in the crazy world of curiosity and sharing that hatched and feeds the internet, there is something called a Blog Hop. It is a wonderful way for writers to support one another, share their own musings on writing, and shine a light on other writers. I have found writers to be incredibly generous and that’s a good thing, because the writing life can feel very very lonely.  To that end, one of my very first Haven attendees, Mary Novaria, asked me to participate, and I was thrilled to come along for the ride, as well as pass the torch to other Haven alums. (I’m fiercely devoted to anyone who comes to Haven to take a powerful stand for their creative self-expression and very honored that the Haven Retreat was just named (on April 22nd, only two years since its inception) one of the top five retreats in the US by Open Road Media!) These Haven writers are listed below, along with their photos, bios, and links and you can look forward to their answers to the following questions next Monday on their blogs. Please tune in and enjoy!

With my trusty pen!

With my trusty pen!

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Blog Hop Questions:
1) What am I working on/writing?
I am writing three books: a novel, of which I have a very solid first draft. A memoir about the mythic trenches of “failure” and the mythic altitude of “success.” Or, in plainer terms, about the oddities and hopeful grace found in kissing youth good-bye and (for the most part) embracing the new chapters of middle-age. And a book about the writing life which is full of stories of my personal journey, and practical information that I have gleaned from both living it, and teaching it at Haven Retreats.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
People tell me all the time that they don’t have a unique writing Voice. That they’re searching for it. But what I get to see at Haven, is that we already have our “voice.” It’s about tuning in to where it flows most naturally, rather than grabbing it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. It’s about getting in touch with your inner critic and telling her/him that it’s just a scared child and it’s time to go back to sleep. Mama’s in charge. It’s about trusting that it is actually impossible to experience a single moment with a group of people and all write about it the same way. Even if we tried. So the answer to this question is that no two writing “voices” are the same. It’s impossible. My voice is my voice. Yours is yours. And that is a beautiful thing.  I write novels, memoir, personal essay, short stories, sometimes a rare poem, articles, screenplay…so I’m not in one particular genre. (Think Sybil.)  But you can bet that every single thing I write comes from two things:  years and years of hard work and this central author’s statement of mine:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.  I’m not sure if that shows up in my work and thereby makes it “different” than other work in my genres, but I would like to think so.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I think I covered that in my intro. My Author’s Statement nails it.  When I’m wondering why I spend so much time doing this crazy, financially unreliable, socially embarrassing, and sometimes gut-wrenching thing called writing, dealing with so much rejection and an industry in transition…I refer to my Author’s Statement, and it helps set me back on course.  I wrote it one day when I felt pure despair.  Taped it to my computer.  And refer to it every day while I’m sitting here navel-gazing.

4) How does my writing process work?
First of all, I don’t believe in writer’s block. As a parent, it has been a core value to raise flexible people. I would say the same for the writer I’ve “raised” in myself. I do not need a certain kind of environment, device, screen, paper, pen (although I do covet the navy blue Pentel uniball, and everyone on my retreats gets one for free!  Bonus prize!!!).  I can write wherever, whenever. Hemingway said he couldn’t write in the cabin of an airplane. I do a lot of writing when I’m on airplanes and most of it is in my journal and reads like this: “Please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash” so if my journals are ever published posthumously, everybody will think I am a total nut case, but writers are used to that public opinion of them, or should be if they’re not already. Because no one asked us to do this work. It’s considered masturbatory at best, and narcissistic drivel at the least, and for the most part, your family and friends are embarrassed that you do it in the first place, especially if you write a memoir. You do it for yourself, and maybe you do it for other people. And you get rejected. A lot. Mostly, you get rejected. So you better know WHY you are doing it. At Haven, we write an Author’s Statement which we share the last night. It’s a one liner about why we write, that I encourage people to bring home and put someplace very safe for them—their nightstand, their kitchen sink, their computer (if it is in fact safe and not a fire-breathing dragon). In other words, the writing life ain’t for sissies, so you better be able to open that vein and bleed no matter where you are. Everyone’s different. I usually write daily in the mid-morning to early afternoon and for a large part of the weekend. I average about five double-spaced pages a day.  (I’m not a word count person– I go by pages.)  On a really great day when I’m really cranking, I can get around eight double-spaced pages but that’s a lot.  I once wrote twenty-four double-spaced pages in one day and that was just way too many pages to be any good.  Always Times New Roman. 12 pt. Regular margins. Some of it’s compost. Some of it: keepers.

MEET NEXT WEEKS’ HAVEN BLOG HOPPERS:

Sukey Forbes: 1395938_10152011952349540_130556359_n
At the age of 12 a family friend gave me a black leather-bound artists sketchbook to use as a journal that I have to this day. It was the first of many that I have kept and in those books I explored the world of emotion and the landscape of my world through writing. Although inefficient in this day and age, there is a palpable connection for me between the formation of words with my own pen on the page and the ability to access the full spectrum of emotion. The pen and paper remain my best tool. When I need clarity I have found time and again that the best way for me to understand is to write.
My way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of life has always been through writing.

In July my memoir of loss, “The Angel in My Pocket” will be released by Viking. It is a story of grief and resilience woven through a backdrop of 
family history. I have chosen to let the light back into life and learn from all that is placed in my path. My blogs for sukeyforbes.com and Huffington Post are filled with more than a dash of gallows humor in addition to reflections on grief and observation about life after loss.

I have found that on the blank page, with pen in hand, I can rage and rail, write circles around myself and yet one thing has always been true for me: If I keep writing, eventually the truth of the matter for me will emerge. The surprise I received through writing has been peace. With each small gain of insight and release of sorrow it travelled back up my pen, spiraled around my fingers, hands and arms and settled deep into my core.  I hope some of my writing resonates with you.

Lauren Lizardo: lauren
Lauren Lizardo doles out real talk about money + technology + heart + everything-in-between. She loves the practicalities as they relate to executing a dream. She’s also on a mission to divert the world’s obsession with efficiency and productivity to – in her opinion – sweeter, heart-centered things like simplicity and balance. A few years ago, she abandoned a promising career as something fancy and corporate to start her own consulting practice. She hasn’t looked back. She is especially grateful to say she is inspired by and in awe of all her clients. A lovely byproduct of her transition was the renewed excitement for and space to write and to create.

As such, Lauren recently attended Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana. (Read her recent blog post about that awesome retreat here.) While there, new perspective and creativity were unleashed for not only her own writing practice but her other endeavors as well. She is now experimenting with new dimensions of her work and taking bigger risks. In short, she is becoming very good friends with her fear. Her story is unfolding over at laurenlizardo.com where she wrote a powerful piece about Haven.

Kim Jorgensen Gane:KimPortraitCrop8 (2)

Kim Jorgensen Gane is an author and award-winning essayist. She works as a freelance writer in communications and media near Michigan’s sunset coast where she lives with her husband, youngest son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim’s website is GANEPossible.com, where she covers a variety of topics including parenting, infertility, wellness, empowerment, politics, and anything else that interests her. She is a Northwest Indiana cast member of Listen to Your Mother 2014. Her projects include an essay in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, and she is co-editor with Dana Talusani (fellow cast-member in LTYM Boulder, CO) for the #JudyBlumeProject, which is currently seeking submissions. By 2015 she expects to have a publisher and to release her memoir, My Grandfather’s Table, for her 50th birthday. Her novel in progress is, Bluebirds. Her first GANE Possible Publication will be released late spring of 2014. It is, Beating the Statistics: A Mother’s Quest to Heal Infertility and Halt AutismShe wrote a lovely piece about Haven here.

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Haven– Los Cabos– one “E” away from Heaven

bruno_3We hear the phrase “if you build it, they will come.” I take that to heart. I’ve built a lot of things in my life from scratch. Sometimes the soufflé doesn’t rise and the cookies burn. But sometimes my raw efforts meld into a delicious concoction, and last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, I swallowed it whole at the Hotel El Ganzo.

This hotel is dedicated to promoting the arts and artists, offering residencies, as well as being a fabulous boutique hotel gem in the more quiet part of San Jose del Cabo. (about 40 minutes from Cabo San Lucas)

I came early to have a personal writing retreat after a long Montana winter, and then lead a Haven retreat there with an intimate group of inspiring retreaters who swallowed the experience whole too. Ocean breezes coming through our modern, clean-lined classroom, lunches at the beach club and Container café with complimentary boat shuttle across the marina, a roof-deck infinity pool and bar, and our opening and closing ceremonies in a state-of-the art recording studio in the womb-like basement of the hotel.

It is rare to meet people who can combine top quality service with a commitment to promoting the Arts without it being underground/indie or exclusive, and El Ganzo delivered in spades. I’ve been leading retreats in all sorts of places in the last few years, mostly in Montana where I live. This was a truly rare Haven locale and whether or not you are interested in attending one of my retreats, I encourage you to build what your dreams want to build. And to believe that if you build “it,” “they” will indeed come.

Here’s a Q & A which might inspire you, replete with local, off-the-beaten-path info for your next trip to Baja:

Q: Welcome to El Ganzo, Laura! We are honored that you chose to lead your esteemed Haven Writing Retreats with us. Tell us how you found us.
A: I have been leading my Haven Retreats in the US, mostly in Montana where I live, and after working with hundreds of people in the rugged wilderness of the mountains, I wanted to take Haven to the ocean. And I wanted to do it at a place that would offer comfort as well as inspiration for people who are doing this powerful work. A local friend told me that El Ganzo offers a truly unique boutique hotel experience, and immediately in my research, I knew that with El Ganzo’s commitment to supporting the arts and artists, this would be the perfect place for Haven Mexico. I also was looking for a place that was relatively easy to get to, and even from my remote part of Montana, I still got here faster than it takes to get to New York!
Q: Tell us about the Haven Retreat experience.
A: Haven retreats are NOT for writers specifically. They are for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creative self-expression. We have four intensive days of class, workshops, and activities that encourage people to go places they might never go in the realm of expression on the page. This sort of work causes deep personal transformation. I’ve seen Haven change lives over and over again!


Q: How has El Ganzo and this part of Cabo inspired you so far?
A: I’ve been to San Jose del Cabo before, and I love its vibe with its historical village, art galleries, great restaurants— from a small taco stand to fine dining, organic Farmer’s Market, Thursday night Art Walk, fishing culture, beautiful beaches. I like to stay off the tourist track and find more local things to do. In just the first few days here I’ve found deep inspiration both personally, and for my Haven retreats:
• I took a bike ride from El Ganzo to an incredible Sculpture Garden which inspired me to create a writing prompt to use on the Haven Retreat inspired by the surrealist Leonora Carrington.
• Went to the beach-front fishing pavilion where fishermen were bringing in the catch of the day, so fresh that the color of the Dorado still had some of its vibrant blue and yellow. I’ve always thought it such a powerful metaphor that as the Dorado is hunting, and/or fighting for its life, its color becomes more vibrant—almost electric, and then as it dies, it loses its color. To see the fish in the midst of this process inspired another writing prompt to use at Haven.
• Spent the morning at the local organic Farmer’s Market, reveling in the color of the produce—the tomatoes, squash blossoms, radishes, zucchini… We don’t have a lot of color in Montana in the winter, and this was a techno-color feast my eyes dearly needed. Sipping on Mango juice felt about as decadent as anything I can remember in recent history!
• Bought two pieces of art: one at the Farmer’s Market, a print of a 57 pound Dorado on a long swath of muslin, created by local artist Lyle Brunson …which seemed almost like a totem experience after my time at the fishing pier. (we will also use this fish print at Haven!) And at the Art Walk in San Jose, a painting of a woman surrounded by vines with a feather nest crowning her head. She is painted over the text from an ornithology book. It looks so much like my logo and what it feels to be a retreat facilitator, creating and holding the space for people to gain greater self-awareness by digging deeply into their self-expression on the page…that I’m calling her our Haven Patron Saint, Sister in Words. She will sit on our Haven classroom table for inspiration from now on.
• Enjoyed the velvety voice and soothing guitar of the local singer/song-writer Jaimie Martinez at the INCREDIBLE El Ganzo Sunday brunch! I bought all three of his CD’s and have been writing with his beautiful songs in the background. He’s like the Mexican Cat Stevens. Hung out in the El Ganzo basement state-of-the-art recording studio with its creator and curator, the musician Mark Rudin. We shared notes about how to ride the wave of creativity—they might take you places you never dreamed. Mark, a classically trained musician from California, and me, a writer from Montana…both of us, in addition to doing our own work, find ourselves in the powerful position of shepherding other people’s voices and styles. It’s work we both hold dear. You can enjoy this talented musician at El Ganzo on Thursday nights.  And met with the talented film-maker, Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro from Mexico city who kindly shot a Haven video on premise.  (to be shared soon!)


Q: What you are doing is very unique, especially for a New York Times best-selling author. Tell us more about what it’s like to lead your Haven retreats, as a writer.
A: The writing life can be very insular. Writers, as with all artists, deal with a lot of rejection and it can be gut-wrenching. I’ve been writing for my entire adult life and I have lived in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” and I have learned that it’s all myth. The only real thing is the work. I know how to do my work. I like to say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life and sometimes my way to life. I think that creative self-expression should be up there with diet and exercise as far as lifelines go…and I want to help other people find this lifeline. I’m on a mission to help shift the tortured artist paradigm, to the empowered creative person’s reality!
Q: We are looking forward to hosting your Haven retreats. They are perfect match for the El Ganzo mission. Thank you for finding us!
A: I couldn’t be more thrilled. The staff here is so generous, kind, present—all the things people on retreat need to nurture them as they embark on this intense journey of self. The work we do at Haven requires courage, vulnerability, honesty, open-heartedness and much more. It is sacred ground when a group of people who might never meet each other in their regular lives, gather to take this stand for themselves through their creativity. I am careful with this sacred ground, making sure it will provide the nurturing and inspiring climate for my retreat attendees. El Ganzo and the people who breathe it alive are perfect for Haven. Dare I say, one “E” away from heaven!
Q: How can people learn more about your writing, speaking, and retreats and specifically who are they for?
A: Go to my website: www.lauramunson.com! I’ll see you there!

Testimonial:
Haven was more than I expected. I knew I’d get so much out of it. I got that and more.

My intention in attending Haven was to free myself as a writer. Wow did it loosen the chains! I’m working on a book and am experiencing all the attendant self-doubt and stymie, having never written one before. I’d never even shared my writing before Haven. I’ve never in fact admitted to myself I am a writer. Through Haven I have a confidence I’ve never had, and renewed motivation, not to mention some insightful technical and industry guidance. I can now say with assurance, I am a writer, no matter if I’m published or if I just write for enjoyment.

Above all, the one-on-one time with Laura was priceless. To have someone of Laura’s accomplishment and talent read my work and offer feedback was a rare and invaluable opportunity. It is a ‘must-do’ if you attend Haven. From structure, to voice, to engaging the reader, Laura helped me find my way. The insight she offered informs and energizes my writing even after Haven.

The class exercises helped free my writing and encouraged me to actually share it with others. What a fantastic way to help you get out of your own way. Those group exercises were a safe and free zone to just play, as were the evening readings. Not everyone at Haven considers his or herself a writer, so there was a wonderful diversity of work and commentary in our group sessions. The different intentions, perspectives, and life experiences made the time together that much more powerful. Everyone brought and left with something different. As Laura once said to me, “Haven meets you where you need to be met.” She couldn’t have been more right.

I don’t know how long Laura will continue to offer Haven and especially the one-on-one time, but I count myself lucky to have benefited from her total generosity of spirit, talent, counsel and passion. Thank you Laura! Thank you Haven!– Heidi Knippa, Austin, TXIMG_0995

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

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Haven Blog Series Winner

Thanks to all of you who have taken a stand for your creative self-expression on the page and come to Haven, whether in Montana or other inspiring places like our upcoming Cabo Haven in April!  And there’s still room on our fall retreats, but they are filling fast…

Thank you also to those of you who wrote about your Haven experience in my Winter Haven Blog series while I worked on my novel.  Haven was so honored to host your heart language.   Hopefully your words inspired others to take the brave step that you did and come to Haven!

The votes are in and the winner is:

Maria Rodgers O’Rourke.  May we always use the “pretty pages” whatever “pretty” is to us.  One thing I know for sure:  whenever and wherever we put pen to page…it is sacred ground.  Here is a re-post of her lovely piece:

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

Here’s the story of when I lugged a stack of notebooks across the country in the dead of winter, headed to Whitefish, Montana and the Haven Retreat.

I brought two of them (black and white composition books) to our first writing session. Like a kid at a new school, I hugged them tightly and tried to look confident. I left a Smash journal, filled with artsy-decorated blank pages, in my room. The cheap notebooks were for my first drafts, I thought: I’ll transfer my edited versions to the Smash later.

In our writing sessions, Laura welcomed us and our stories with open arms. My body relaxed into the daily writing routine, healthy meals, comfortable rooms, and the snow-covered grounds. My creative self snuggled into this haven space and took some risks. One afternoon, our yoga teacher asked, “So how’s it going?” and patiently waited for our response. The room held a small group of us, strangers just days before, and I felt safe. My heart in my throat, I blurted out that my golden retriever was dying, and sobbed. We cried and shared our stories of loss, lifting the grief that I dragged from home like so many notebooks.

With such healing going on, by the third day my writing sessions were producing real gems. Rough and honest, the drafts revealed my voice, stretching out like a bird opening its wings. That day I added the as-yet-unused Smash journal to my stack. After breakfast, we settled into our meeting room, which was awash in Montana winter sunshine, each window a postcard of evergreens on snowy hillsides. Sipping her tea, a fellow Haven-er noticed my notebooks. I explained about drafts and revisions and critiques, but my words trailed off as these once-hidden thoughts came into the light. I felt silly, but she smiled and said, “So, your first drafts aren’t worthy of the pretty pages?”

She nailed it. Turns out I only needed one notebook. The first draft is where the inner critic succeeds in dismissing a clever idea, or discouraging the hopeful writer, or quieting a fledging voice. To get out of our own way and get that first draft on paper is a victory. And they are worthy of pretty pages. All my Haven Retreat first drafts, clippings, and photos are secure in the Smash journal. When my creative self needs it, I flip through the pages and feel Laura’s embrace. At Haven, every first draft is beautiful.

–Maria Rodgers O’Rourke is an author, blogger, and speaker, who is the voice of the Everyday Inspired podcast and a blogger for the Huffington Post.

If you want to come to a Haven Retreat but are feeling not-so-brave…you are NOT alone.  Most people who come struggle with taking this stand for themselves.  This honest testimonial from a recent retreater says it all…

“When I first heard Laura Munson speak about Haven on Hay House Radio I was immediately intrigued although hesitant. Was I good enough to attend such a retreat? Was my writing far enough along? Would I embarrass myself? After speaking with Laura on the phone, I made a commitment to attend, initially for the fall of 2013. I waffled with that date with my own insecurities and re-booked for February 2014. I do not think it humanly possible for someone to go back and forth as much as I did, “Should I go?” “Yes, let’s challenge myself.” “No, don’t go.”  Over and over.

Laura was incredibly patient and supportive especially after learning some of my personal challenges at home pulling me away from Haven.  My husband was very ill with dementia and to attend Haven was a big step and one way outside my comfort zone as a total introvert. My husband’s disease was killing me too and I knew I needed to take a giant step for my health. I wrote my way through our hardships as a tool for healing.

After reading Laura’s book and embracing her amazing ongoing support, I decided to attend– although I have to admit I left the house thinking I can always return home if I feel uncomfortable. How could I possibly be with 10 other people I did not know for 4 days?

I LOVED the Haven experience and can honestly say it was life-altering in a positive and amazing way. For all of us to be tucked way out on the incredible ranch, in very comfortable rooms and delicious and nourishing food, was beyond expectations. Social hour in front of the roaring fire with snow falling outdoors made for an intimate setting. The writing exercises and support were way beyond my wildest expectations.

Laura is an amazing writer, teacher, and facilitator. My 1:1 with her gave me clarity on structure and content for my book. Our group immediately formed a trusted and risk taking approach with Laura’s guidance.  I encourage everyone to attend Haven. The experience will be with me for a long time and I dream of attending another session.”

–Katherine Stevenson, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

 

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Blog Series-- Haven, My Posts