Category Archives: My Posts

Write (and Live) from the Inside Out

take-aways

Now booking Haven Retreat at Stratton Mountain in Vermont– Nov. 5-9  For more info click here!

I’m in the middle of my Haven Retreat high season and by the end of November will have worked intimately with over 50 people.  They are my teachers as much as I am theirs.  One kind retreater wrote down some of her take-aways and gave them to me as a gift written on handmade paper.  Almost nothing makes me happier.  (see above photo)  I have learned so much from meeting my Haven attendees not only in person, but on the page, and I’ve found that most of us are stuck in the same ways.  The most common way is this:

We are afraid to dive right into the stories and the characters.  We flutter around them like they are hot flame and we are not quite moths.  I say start in the middle.  Start in the white hot moment.  Start breathless.  Why not?  You don’t need Arnold Schwarzenegger to come in with an uzi gun to make it active.  But keep it alive with things like intriguing details, the five senses, what goes on in the characters minds, and what comes out of their MOUTHS.  Start with a powerful question in your mind and write into the answer.

Garrison Keillor in his Writer’s Almanac, shined a light on this bit of writerly wisdom from novelist P.G. Wodehouse (books by this author),

“Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a great slab of prose at the start. I think the success of every novel — if it’s a novel of action — depends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, ‘Which are my big scenes?’ and then get every drop of juice out of them. The principle I always go on in writing a novel is to think of the characters in terms of actors in a play. I say to myself, if a big name were playing this part, and if he found that after a strong first act he had practically nothing to do in the second act, he would walk out. Now, then, can I twist the story so as to give him plenty to do all the way through? I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself if it is all right as a story. I mean, once you go saying to yourself, ‘This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but I’m such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay,’ you’re sunk. If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters can’t be major characters, not even if you have the rest of the troop talk their heads off about them.”

I think there are life lessons in this advice as well.  If we don’t speak for ourselves, others might, and they don’t really know us.  Not really.  If we don’t express our truth, then it’s anyone’s guessing game.  I’m not saying that we should walk around being fully self-expressed in every moment, but when it counts, find your voice and speak it with all your heart.  And then…after that…allow yourself to be wildly misunderstood.  Others will try to fill in the blanks.  At least you can control speaking your piece/peace.  And that’s good news.

 

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You Are Arriving

This is for all the brave people who have joined me at Haven Retreats, and for those who have yet to come.  The journey is everything.

There are a few poems that have kept me together in the last little while of my life as I’ve gone through the end of my marriage.  This one is at the top of the list.  Whatever end you might be coming to– the end of a relationship, the end of a job, the end of your family as you know it, empty nest…read this and know you are not alone.  The video is a wonder too.   yrs.  Laura

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

– by David Whyte

 

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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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Retreat. Re-invent. One woman’s story.

Come on a Haven Retreat in Montana!   (ranked in the top five writing retreats in the US!)

Just a few spots left for:

September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

Latonia-18-copy-400x250

For whatever reason– call it the Leo/Virgo cusp which says, “The great strength of Leo/Virgos is in their creativity and attention to detail, and their desire to be of service,” or chalk it up to a lifetime of creative self-expression on the page and a deep yearning to help people know what I know:  writing is a therapeutic tool that should be up there with diet and exercise in the way of preventative wellness. It doesn’t really matter. I am simply fiercely hungry to create, and fiercely driven to help. So when I got an email from one of my Haven Retreat alums last week, I wept with joy and I called my kids into my office: “THIS is why Mommy leads retreats. THIS.” Then I told them about Latonia. She says it in her own words best:

“I saw Laura at a women’s conference in Boston where she spoke about getting unstuck by getting out of your own way and self-expression.  At this event, I learned of the Haven Writing Retreat. Hearing Laura speak was eye opening for me at a time when I was soul searching for joy in my life. Even though I had a month old baby and finances were a challenge, I took a big risk and attended the retreat. What Haven provided was an outlet of dedicated time for me to reconnect with my own self-expression through writing. Laura’s passion for writing and the love for her work made me feel comfortable amongst a diverse group—some professional writers, some just starting out, some with project ideas, and others who had only written in personal journals, like me. Haven made me realize the power of my words and how my journaling has made a meaningful difference in my life over the years. My experience left such a lasting impression on me I was inspired to share my joy for journaling with the world and started a new career through a business called Let’s Write Life. When I signed up, I was told that Haven would change my life…and it truly did!”

–Latonia Francois, MA – Owner of Let’s Write Life

1491465_10151726883476266_817774411_oI contacted Latonia immediately and asked her if she’d do this Question and Answer in hopes that it might inspire people out there to tune in to what they love, take a strong, brave stand for it, especially in the field of writing. I believe that writing heals, and so does Latonia. Here is our conversation:

Question and Answer with Latonia Francois (Haven Retreat Alum)

What role has writing played in your life?

I never considered myself to be writer, but journaling is something I have always done from early in my childhood. It’s always been a lifeline that has brought light to every situation.

How specifically has the process of journaling helped you?

When I journal, I escape the “process” of life. All the routines that make up our days, occupy our time, spend our money, give us joy, cause us stress, or even make us feel our best…I escape it through journaling and arrive to a place that only involves…me.

I gain clarity through my journaling, peace of mind, and joy through my own self-expression. When I am down, I release stress through the “power of the pen,” lol.

What made you take the leap and come on a Haven Writing Retreat?

I was at place in my life where I was resisting a change I felt I needed and really wanted the space and time to soul search. When I learned about Haven, I was at a Woman’s Conference expecting the best out of it and that’s when I sat in your (Laura’s) workshop and was really taking in everything you were saying about “Being Stuck and Getting Out of Your Own Way.” I was so inspired from the workshop and the questions of self-reflection that you shared, I said I needed more of this and took a flyer for Haven Retreat that just so happened to be starting the very next day. I went home and the workshop stayed on my mind so much, I had to make attending the retreat happen, and now the rest is history.Journal-_Fotor-400x250

What were some of your obstacles in taking that stand for yourself?

Attending the retreat was certainly unexpected for me. I had just had a baby. She was only 3 weeks old at the time. I hadn’t even been away from her at all up until the women’s conference, so this was a hard decision in itself to leave my husband, my toddler, and the new baby for the duration of the retreat. In my mind I knew I wanted to give myself the space to mentally move forward in my life in a joy filled way, but I wasn’t allowing myself to do that while at home meeting the demands of my family and household responsibilities.

How did your “yes” voice win out?

Honestly, with the unconditional support of my husband, my “yes” voice won! We both agreed my well-being was most important for me, my family, and my next phase of life. The last year leading up to the retreat was pretty difficult and I needed time to de-stress, reflect, restore, and work on me. I needed “me-time.”

How did your experience at Haven inspire you to create Let’s Write Life?

I was soul searching for joy in my life and took a leap of faith to attend. While on the retreat, I journaled making every effort to bring what was inside my heart out on paper. The exercises and activities were structured in a way that allowed me to not only write, but to HEAR the words on heart. Attending Haven made me realized the power of my words and how much journaling has ALWAYS made a difference in my life. Haven left such a lasting impression on me, I was inspired to share my joy for journaling with the world and started a new career through Let’s Write Life. Relationships I built with others in the group was also inspiring and it was comforting to know we were all there discovering something new about ourselves. When I signed up, I was told Haven would change my life…and it did!

What do you hope people will gain from working with you?

I hope that people would hear my life story and be empowered by it. I believe that your best story is your life story. That’s my inspirational message I share with everyone because there were times in my life I thought I wasn’t going to make it or ever achieve the level of happiness that I desired, but those dark times are the very moments that have empowered me. Many times people get stuck because life challenges prevent them from taking leaps of faith to move forward or to let go and discover what they are truly capable of.

Tell us some details about the Let’s Write Life method?

Through Let’s Write Life I share a self-empowering journey through a specific and unique journaling technique that brings healing through writing.
As journaling has played a pretty meaningful role in my life, what you’ll find with me is that journaling is at the heart of everything I do personally so it only makes sense to bring that into each Let’s Write Life experience. My life story is the guiding force behind all the topics I cover from self-empowerment, overcoming depression, healing from family hurt, business tragedy, and coping with the transitions of life. From my own journaling, I have developed some pretty awesome journaling techniques that allowed me to overcome life challenges and achieve happiness, so Let’s Write Life allows anyone to explore the possibilities of journaling.

Who would greatly benefit from your work?

I am empowering youths, parents, individuals, business owners, elderly, veterans and anyone that needs encouragement, wants to begin a self-empowering life journey to discover true joy, or just loves to journal or wants to explore the possibilities of journaling. My hope is to bring my workshops into education programs, wellness and family centers, and other places that support personal development.

What advice would you give to people who have a dream?

When I think about a dream I’m reminded of this quote I really love, which I found online that says, “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.” Dreams are apart of life. Everyone has them. The decision to achieve them is up to YOU. Let Your Dreams Empower You.

What’s Your Story?
Your best story is your life story.
Start Writing Yours.

Let’s Write Life
Learn more about Latonia’s personal story of healing to happiness through speaking engagements, workshops, and one-on-one sessions.

Learn More: http://letswritelife.com/lets-write/
Work With Me: http://letswritelife.com/work-with-me/

Latonia Francois
www.LetsWriteLife.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/letswritelife
WomanLeadership1

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Retreat Season: A Time to be Mindful

As featured on the front page of Huffington Post 50
dock_2Mindfulness is on the map.  Time Magazine ran it on its cover last January:  “The Mindful Revolution.”  The Chicago Tribune headlined it:  Use mindfulness to pull yourself out of a funk.  An article in The New York Times urges us to use mindfulness and meditation as a powerful resource in healthy living.  The Washington Post challenges us to be mindful at work.  The Huffington Post offers 5 mindful things to do every day.  And Forbes touts mindfulness as a tool for Success.  (And we all know what Forbes means when they talk about $success$.)  It’s like a miracle or something.  Mindfulness has been my dearest pursuit for as long as I can remember.  I just didn’t know what word to attach to it.  And maybe that was because I was fairly positive that mainstream society wouldn’t support it.  I’ve never been very good at being called names.  So in an effort to lessen the offense, I decided to call myself a Writer.  And I moved to Montana where nobody seemed to care one way or another.

I have spent the last 25 years living in Montana, writing with all my mindful might.  The natural world is the perfect stage to develop this practice, this prayer, this meditation, this way of life, and sometimes this way to life.  I fiercely believe that creative self-expression on the page should be up there with diet and exercise as a therapeutic tool in the realm of preventative wellness…whether or not it adds up to a published work.  Writing is the best way I know to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life.  And nature has been my best writing (mindfulness) teacher, calling me to retreat into my most sacred, quiet, deliberate place and find the wilderness of my words.

This time of year is a loyal reminder of the power of retreating into that still place.   As summer winds down, my muse steps out of the huckleberry bushes and mountain lakes, stretches and notices the trajectory of things.  Like dragonflies on screens.  And Monarchs on Echinacea.  And bats hanging in eaves.  This is the time of year when I stop the flurry of my summer check list, and start to imagine the world white again.  Dormant.  Where I get still, the world sleeps, the woodstove teases ideas into words which turn into stories, and most important, morph into understanding.

Late summer’s corner into autumn is the perfect time to abide with the rhythms of the natural world.  To pay attention to how it prepares slowly, methodically, mindfully, for that dormancy.  Nothing is an accident.  Every winged thing knows that everything counts, especially the ones who stay.  Every hibernating creature is taking stock, making sure it has just the right kind of burrow with the right kind of egress.  I follow their lead, preparing for a winter of words.

It’s the same every year.  After months of ignoring the stacks in my house, the clutter in my closets, the flung grenades in my garage, I find myself hungry to clean it all out.  I go through my pantry, making sure I have the basics:  flour, sugar, clean Mason jars for the jam and canned tomatoes I’ll put up in a few weeks.  I gather the gardening tools which have been too long leaning against fences, hose them down, return them to their home in the shed.  And my office—I divide the things that I thought would matter from the things that do matter—trash the former, file the latter.  In other words, I throw away a lot.

All of this is in anticipation of autumnal work which I have learned is essential to my winter work.  Autumn is the time to prime the pump of my creative flow.  Prime it so that it will flow through deep freeze.  Autumn is the time for mindfulness at its best:  It’s the time for retreat.

With the first hint of chill, I know that it’s time to retreat into that free zone which summer has procured.  I sleep with my windows wide open to let the night air roll over me, hoping that it will filter into my dreams and fuel my muse.  I keep my journal close to my bed, and I wake up early and open it, feeling my words sift through my mind’s fingers like the larch needles that will fall in early October.  I let them come.  I don’t think about how they might stack up.  I don’t need them to add up to anything other than freedom.  Permission.  Hunger.  Need.  The work will come in winter.  For now it’s time to stretch my mind, loosen what has lodged there in the summer months, let it flow.

Where do we get this free zone in life?  Where is pure expression without scrutiny ever exercised in our lives?  When I am in this corner season, I am less interested in the words, and more interested in where they come from.  It’s like a portal place.  An opening deep in the forest where I used to imagine the animals and fairies and teddy bears went in the nighttime to dance around bonfires.  I believed in that place as a little girl.  When I am finding and releasing words in this way, I am that little girl again.  We all need to be that child.  Children know that freedom is more than a high concept or a goal or that it comes with a cost.  They know that it is a place inside us and they know they have to access it in order to do everything else that constitutes living.

That’s what writing is for me.  That free zone.  That place behind the words and stories.  And that’s what I want other people to know.  It’s not unlike the birds and chipmunks preparing for winter.  It’s taking stock.  It’s finding the basics.  It’s procuring survival.  It is a retreat into self.  I believe in retreats as a vital way to tap into that creative self-expression on the page.  I know I need them and I believe other people do too.  So in the spirit of what I have been practicing for many years, mindful writing, I started Haven Retreats.

This fall, forty brave “grown-ups” will come to Montana to dig deeply into that wilderness that lives in them.  Some will call themselves “writers.”  Some will not.  Some will have stories they want to write.  Some will simply hope for words to come and to meet them on the page like new friends.  It’s my job to lead them to their words by inspiring them to go places they would not likely go on their own.  To facilitate an experience for them that they can walk away with and weave into their daily lives.  When people do this sort of work, they become aware of who they are; that portal place in the woods where they dance around bon-fires, unabashed.

The act of going on a retreat is not woo woo.  Leaving our daily lives behind and retreating into our primal rhythms, our purest flow, has been done since the beginning of time.  The Native Americans went on Vision Quests.  Jesus went to the desert.  Buddha went to the Bo tree.   Muhamad went to a cave.  From those retreats came stories and words.  Wise words that have lasted ages and profoundly informed how our civilization endures.  Mindfulness, especially on a retreat, is ancient practice.  It’s no small surprise then, that our country’s major publications consider this important “news.”  With the stresses of our current world, people are understanding the value of what we have lost and what nature does intuitively.   Mindfully.  Deliberately.  Creating ourselves over and over again.  And that, indeed, is miraculous.

 

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A Tall Drink of Summer…

bench

Only a few spots left for my 2014 Haven Retreats in Montana…

September 10-14 (ALMOST FULL)
September 24-28 (ALMOST FULL)
October 8-12
October 22-26

When is the last time you sat on a bench in your home town?  It’s summertime here in Whitefish, Montana, so that means there are tourists enjoying the view from our town benches everywhere I look—taking a break from the overwhelm of our nearby Glacier National Park, our stunning lakes and rivers, and miles of pristine wilderness.  I’ve lived in Whitefish for twenty years and with our long, dark Montana winters, summer is my biggest bully, beckoning me to get on my horse, put on my hiking shoes, pack up the camping gear, grab the huckleberry bucket, paddleboard, canoe…and get after it, as we say around here.  And “it” is a high calling with vast reward.  I have been good at “it.”  Not this summer. 

This summer everyone in my family is running in a different direction.  Perhaps you can relate.  My daughter is leaving for her first year in college in a matter of weeks, baby-sitting 24/7 to help pay for her expenses (we should all be $baby-sitters$ these days!)  My high-school bound son has been up to his ears in baseball— his 13 year old All Star team not only winning State, but last weekend, Regionals!  (They went up against teams from all over the Pacific Northwest who had hundreds try out for those coveted spots.  They had twelve.  Small town miracles do happen!)  Personally, when I’m not watching baseball games or filling out college forms, I have been under a deadline for a novel I’ve spent the last few years writing.  (Deadline was yesterday.  Made it—phew!)   In other words, I haven’t stopped to enjoy summer.  Haven’t seen my horse.  Haven’t taken one hike.  Went out on Whitefish Lake once thanks to a friend with a boat who took “pity” on me when she saw my pasty skin.  Got some fresh huckleberries from a friend and her secret huckleberry patch, which I guiltily used in our pancakes the next morning.  It felt like cheating.  Most of all, I haven’t felt part of my community.  And I miss it.  I need to sit in it and just be.WF

So yesterday, when our town threw a parade for our Whitefish All Star champs, I got there early to make sure I captured it all on camera and cheered alongside the fire truck holding those glowing young men.  I was all ready to go, expecting the fire truck to round the bend at exactly 5:00 as scheduled in our town newspaper, but there was no parade to be seen.  I waited, checking my camera to make sure I had remembered the memory card and a charged battery—(I have an uncommon knack for forgetting both in the most photogenic moments), texting my son to find out what was going on.  Whitefish loves its parades.  I got a text back.  Schedule change.  Not til 6:00.  I had an hour.

Normally, I would think, “Ok— what can I check off my list?  What mail needs to be sent?  What errand can I run?  Do I have anything at the dry-cleaners?  But the stores were closed and my car was parked far away…and there was the nicest empty bench on the street corner in the shade.  And I thought—what the heck.  Why don’t you just sit down.  Take a load off.  People watch.  And BE.  See what other people see when they sit on our town benches.  The Burlington Northern railroad running through, the azure skies and popcorn clouds.  The emerald green ski runs on the forest green mountain.  The children skipping alongside their carefree vacation-minded parents.  The older people licking ice cream cones and gazing into shop windows I race past every day, really taking it all in– commenting on the western art.  “Oh, that’s lovely.”  And moving on, slowly, on the shady side of the street. 

Summer can be slow.  The “it” can be something quiet.  Meditative.  Simple, with no proof– not even a photograph.  I decided yesterday, sitting on that bench, that I’m going to become a bench dweller.  I’m going to make a practice of sitting on benches, especially in my home town.  I want to see the wonder of what Whitefish looks like to people who are seeing it for the first time.  I want to say, “Hello” to strangers, and locals too, and give benign smiles that have nothing to do with team sports or college entrance or work or who are the best teachers, or who are you going to vote for, or even what’s in the local paper.  I just want to Be in my town.  Take a load off.  Sit a spell. 

When those fire trucks came around the bend, I grabbed my camera, ready to shoot in rapid fire, to share on Facebook and with the paper and everybody else for that matter.  But instead, I stood up, and waved, smiling to my son and his team, took one picture, jogging alongside them for a few steps to show my support.  But then I stopped and watched, smiling and proud, as the truck made its way down Central Ave.  And I sat back down on the bench.  Being a parade chaser is too exhausting.  Sometimes it’s better to let the parade pass by.  There will be more parades.  Most of life is about all the stuff that lives between our heightened moments.  That’s the “it” I’m going to start getting after.  On little benches everywhere.  I invite you to do the same in our last weeks of summer.

champs

We reached our goal and our baseball family is leaving for the Babe Ruth U-13 World Series in Virginia today!  Thanks to all of you who helped make it possible!

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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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Walden– 2014-style.

IMG_0161Now booking our upcoming 2014 Haven Writing Retreats and since they were named in the top five writing retreats in the country, they are filling fast!  Give yourself this powerful gift…
September 10-14 (ALMOST FULL)
September 24-28 (ALMOST FULL)
October 8-12
October 22-26

For more information, email me at:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I dream of a cabin in the woods like the one in this photo. With a little creek running through. A vegetable garden. And a writing table. No internet. No phone. A fireplace and a screened porch with a comfy bed and lots of pillows. If you looked at my Montana home, you might think my life is already pretty much like that. And if I put my house on VRBO and wrote: “Writer’s Cabin in Montana,” I would probably get some renters who are taking a break from their lives to write in just this dream I dream.

This house however, currently holds too many responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand my attention. Bottom line is: right now, my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this and I wouldn’t wish away one drop of it. To everything there is a season, and in this season of my life I am writing three books on top of sending my daughter off to college and a summer of my son’s baseball Allstars rigor. Add to that the full time job of running my Haven Retreats. Enjoying a little summer in Montana on my horse and on the hiking trails would be nice too!

So rather than complain, or become resentful, or run myself ragged and end up flunking in every pursuit…I’ve developed a plan, and so far, it’s working. No matter what you’d do in a cabin in the woods alone for a month, see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule in the way of weaving dreams into realities.  Some of my method might surprise you.

Laura’s Walden 2014 IMG_0014

Day One:and beyond…
1) Sleep in. And I mean late. Like til 10:00. You’ll likely wake up around 7:00, but challenge yourself to stay in bed for a few more hours in a sort of wakeful trance. Eyes closed. Mindful of your breathing. Letting the thoughts come in, but not land unless they feel natural and part of the pure flow that is your true nature. Breathe into them. It’s okay if you fall asleep. You’ll probably work with those thoughts in your dream state and wake up with a clean, whole, gumption of some sort. Take this gumption and write about it. I swear, this morning meditation is where all the good ideas are.  (Of course you may have something called a “day job” or children…but at least take a day a week if at all possible, and give this morning meditation a whirl.   Consider it an essential part of your writing practice.)
2) Still in bed…once those ideas come, and don’t force them, take in a deep breath, write the first line in your mind, (but not the second—trust that it will come and you’ll want to be at your writing desk when it does), grab your bathrobe, and go directly to your desk.
3) DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Not for one itty bitty second. Or God forbid, Facebook. Do not poison what must be pure, and what you have just hatched by your morning meditation.
4) Write the first line.
5) Then go make a smoothie. I have a Nutra-bullet, and I love it. I have on hand: frozen organic fruit like mango, blueberries, peaches, pineapples, coconut milk, flax seeds, fresh baby greens, and a banana. The banana makes it. It’s a green drink that tastes like heaven. Keep that one line working in you as you make your smoothie. I timed myself this morning: it took six minutes. No good idea will disappear in six minutes. You absolutely must nourish yourself.
6) With smoothie in hand, (and maybe tea or coffee as well), go back to your desk. Then give yourself two hours. At least. Two hours at your desk, writing. I repeat…do NOT go on the internet. Not for one nano-second. Even to research something for whatever it is you are writing. You do not want to end up buying boots when you are supposed to be working that meditation-hatched gumption into form!
7) Noon-ish. Now take a break. Make lunch. Sit somewhere and let go of the thoughts. Notice the world around you. Sit outside if you can. Watch birds. If your head is busy, start counting the birds you see to keep the thoughts from taking over. I’ve counted a lot of birds. Amazing what you notice when you break life down to winged things.
8) Now take a walk. This is the best way to let everything you have experienced today work through you. Something always happens when I take a walk. Allow something to happen. Maybe you come up with a new idea. Maybe you decide that what you wrote this morning is really just a warm up for something else that is more white hot inside you.
9) On your walk, if you really get cooking, try this: Interview yourself, as if you are on a national morning show like the Today Show. Ask yourself driving questions about the thing you wrote this morning. Things like: “What is your piece about?” “What’s at stake for your characters?” “What made you want to write it?” “What’s in it for the reader?” Answer your questions using honed responses like you’d hear on TV. These are your talking points. Once you get them, go home as fast as you can and write them down. Or, in anticipation of this, bring along a notebook or a pad of paper. I don’t like to do that because it puts pressure on what could just be a perfectly good walk that doesn’t need to get all white hot. More of a processing walk. But mine usually run white hot. (Dirty secret: I have been interviewing myself for the Today Show since I was a little girl. That means I’ve been interviewed by Jane Pauley hundreds of times!)
10) Now return to what you wrote and read through it keeping those talking points in mind. They will be your guide in the progression of this piece, wherever it may go.
11) Or maybe you nailed it in two hours this morning and it’s ready to put on your blog, or pitch to a magazine or newspaper. But if you’re like 99.9% of the rest of us writers, you likely have more work to do. And that’s good news. Because you can control the work and just about nothing else about the writing life. With the exception of the last 10 ablutions.
NOW…plug in, do your laundry, pay your bills, go to the grocery store…
Bonus ablutions:
12) If you want to write more and you have the time, go for it! But set yourself up for completion by starting small with those two pure hours.
13) Print out what you wrote at the end of the day, draw a bath, and read it out loud to yourself with a good pen. Mark it up.
14) Start the next day the same way, only now you can meditate on the piece you started and take it further.
15) Begin by plugging in your edits from the night before and you…are…IN!
16) Have fun! In the words of Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness.IMG_0164

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My Garden Grows

borderI learned to garden not as a lady of leisure, but as a writer who needed a source of income and who knew that it had to be in the realm of creative self-expression lest it suck the muse dry.  So I worked at a flower shop in Harvard Sq., and later at a nursery in Seattle, and after that, at a landscaping operation.  I learned a lot along the way, and little by little I began to play with my own garden dreams.  I’d bowed at the altar of my childhood favorite illustrator, Tasha Tudor, in deeply spiritual groans over her lush tangle of flowers and barefoot ruddy-faced children, dogs and cats– a peaceable kingdom that I longed to one day create.  I wanted to be this woman, so self-sufficient and Yankee, walking barefoot in her garden, pausing only for the rigors of afternoon tea and a sensible nap.  I wanted to set up a writing table the way she did an easel, and use it all to inspire worlds from this small postage stamp of my creation in the physical world.

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I planted small perennial gardens wherever I lived, even in rentals.  Suffice it to say that there are a lot of perennial beds across the country, and I hope that they are still alive and well.  Perennials are both good friends and traitors that way.  The second I bought my first home, I planned out the garden, pouring through all the Tasha Tudor books I could find about her garden, and locked in on my vision:  a cottage garden, dripping in structure that would over the years, take care of itself.  patio_2
Honeysuckle would grow over grapevines, clematis would vine through ragosa roses barbed to antique metal trellices.  There would be show after show, each star introducing the next from narcissus, to tulips, to forget-me-nots, to allium, to ladies mantle, to lupine, to poppies, to peonies, to roses, to delphinium, to mallow, to rudbeckia, to monarda, and the final autumn show stoppers– sunflowers, aster, sedum, done.   And so much inbetween.  It would be a fine mess of old friends that would return every year, and I would welcome them as such, praying away hail for the easily bruised poppies, high winds for the hollow-stalked delphinium, and praying for ants for the peonies.IMG_0334

We had little to choose from at our rural Montana nurseries in the way of perennials, and the catalogues were a let down– the bare root stubs that showed up in the mail nothing like what they promised in profusion on their pages that taunted you mid-February.  So whenever I travelled, be it by car, train, or airplane, I would always bring home roots from friends’ gardens, wrapped in wet newspaper, and stored in plastic bags.  To this day, old friends who have passed on, are still alive in my garden, reminding me of the power of roots.  The power of vision.  The power of creating your own postage stamp of perennial friends who for the most part, live, even through the most brutal winter.trio

My garden has been a room in our home, inspiring mudpies, bedside bud vases, Mother’s Day bouquets, teacher appreciation gifts, strawberry jam. No matter what, I try to have something from the garden in the house. Because it helps. In their exquisite and tender elegance, flowers remind us that we are all root, stalk and petal. And that we all bloom, fade, and grow again. Unless it’s time to move on like my honeysuckles decided this winter after a 20 year run, sometimes even growing in winter!070 (2)

There have been years when I was ambitious, building a dry stack wall by  myself, or binding willow trellices to support the sweet peas, or digging up day lillies and soaking them so that I could release them from the grass that bound their roots, divide them and replant.  And years when I didn’t have the time or the back power to add even one bulb in the fall, or pull weeds in the spring, and there was one year when I didn’t have the energy to water them at all.  Still, for 20 years, these friends have grown loyally and religiously.  The garden then, is the outward and visible sign of my inward invisible truth.peon

May your garden grow whatever kind of day you are having!

Take a moment and meet these good old friends of mine:


Honeysuckle: May you rest in peace…
honey
We bedeck you with crystals from my childhood lamp.
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Commencement: A Mother’s Guide to the Extra Stuff

cap tossas seen on mamalode.com

I can never remember if the word “commencement” means beginning or ending. My knee jerk reaction is to think that it means ending, though my writer’s mind quickly corrects it.

That’s probably because graduation ceremonies are called Commencement, and I think of graduation day as an ending– leaving the known behind: a good reputation, dear friends at a stone’s throw, families whose refrigerators and bikes and kitchen tables are yours for the sharing… the dismantling of decorated walls soon to betray you for guests, or someone else with new photo collages, new tapestries, new blue ribbons. I have never been good at leaving the familiar, and I usually mark it with a little hidden graffiti—Laura Munson lived here, and the dates.

But it’s not my turn this upcoming Commencement. It’s my daughter’s. Now it’s she who is dismantling her room, coming down to the end of her check list, five more days of school to go, graduation invitations in the mail, college deposit in, orientation dates in stone. There is a new timber in her voice; something dire. “Mom, can you do something with my Breyer horse collection?”

“Can’t you just leave them on your shelf?” I ask, vignettes reeling by of mock horse races on the lawn and barnyard feedings with tiny plastic apples, and that one coveted palomino paint that became real one Christmas.

“I need room for my stuff.”

“What stuff?”

And then I realize that the stuff that has been strewn all over her room for the last four years of high school actually could have had a home in her bookshelves if we’d been more able (or willing) to pack up her plastic horse collection.  I’m not sure whose job this is. Please Lord, not mine.

I look into her eyes. And I see…it’s my job. Some things are just too hard.

Suddenly, I feel a desperate need to give advice in fast forward. “Have I taught you how to make hospital corners? And to never leave a wet towel on a bed? Or leave a glass directly on wood?”

“I know. Respect the wood. You’ve told me.” She’s tolerating my Mom-ness much more than usual lately. She’s in the bittersweet of Commencement while I am bursting into tears in pathetic public places, like at the bank drive thru, catching myself in the video screen looking miserable. Will her roommate know that when she needs a hug but is too shy to ask, she makes tea? Will she know that she likes to sing in harmony and that all those eye-ball rolls don’t really mean anything? Will she know that she acts street-tough sometimes, but is deeply sensitive and if she’s playing the ukulele along with Jack Johnson, something pretty rough probably happened at school that day?

“Mom, why are you crying?” she says, bringing me back to the grim task of packing up her happy childhood.

“I’m sorry. I’m just going to miss you.”

Last week was when it really hit. I was doing laundry and I heard from her room in that new dire timber, “How do stamps work?”

Stamps? Like postage stamps?”

“Yeah.” This from a 4.0 student.

I went into her room. She was sitting on her bed addressing graduation party invitations. “Really? You can program a computer, but you don’t know how stamps work???”

“My generation doesn’t really use them.”

I was sure she was playing a joke on me. Stamps? But she wasn’t. She really had no clue that you use the same stamp for a local letter that you do for one that goes all the way to New York City.

Geez– what other glaring omissions have there been in my mothering? I’ve tried so hard to fill in every blank, taking every single second possible as a teaching moment. “Maybe I should write you a survival handbook for college and beyond. Would that be helpful?”

“I know all the basic stuff. But yeah…maybe the extra stuff.”

I wracked my brain, taking inventory. The extra stuff. If stamps are “extra” this could get ugly! I decided to do it room by room, compartmentalizing life in cross-section, like the dollhouse we spent hours decorating and playing in.

Kitchen:
I started with How to boil water, tell if pasta is ready, smell a gas leak, turn off the water main…but suddenly it turned into a different kind of “extra.”
• If you’re having a bad day, leave the dishes. But do soak them, or you’ll really be in a bad mood when you get around to cleaning them.
• If you’re having a really bad day, don’t adhere to the utensil slots. Just chuck ‘em all in and let them fall where they may. Actually, if it’s a really bad day, just leave the dishes alone. They can wait.
• No matter what kind of mood you’re in, make yourself a nice meal, especially if you’re lonely.
• Always eat some fruit in the morning and some veggies at some point in the day. Keep bananas, carrots, apples, and potatoes around. They do the trick when you’re not feeling inspired.
• Keep a granola bar in your purse. (Tip: Use only small purses—lest you end up with a Mary Poppins carpet bag, coat rack and all. Read Nora Ephron’s essay on women’s purses.)
• Splurge on really good jam and really good bread.
• Always have a flower or a piece of greenery in a vase on your kitchen windowsill. It really helps.
• If you see evidence of mice, set traps immediately. This probably will not apply to 99% of the places you’ll live, (we live in Montana), so take it metaphorically: See s*** for what it is and get rid of the source before it gets out of control.
• If you use To Do lists, get rid of the word “goal” and replace it with “possibility.” You’ll be nicer to yourself that way.
• If you find yourself writing down something that you’ve already done on a To Do list, just so you can cross it off, you might want to stop making To Do lists.
• Allow yourself to grocery shop without a list, but not when you are hungry. You might surprise yourself by what ends up in your grocery cart—like rhubarb or radishes or kale or pistachios!
• Always smell fish before you buy it. If it smells like fish, it’s no good. Also, look into its eyes. They should be clear. This also applies to boyfriends.
• To cut goat cheese, use dental floss. (Unflavored! Duh. Don’t roll your eyes.)
• To make Deviled Eggs, put boiled eggs into cold water/ice bath. When cool, cut in half, shell ON, with sharp knife, then scoop egg out with spoon. Magic!
• Learn how to make homemade chicken broth. (Ask your mother)

Living room:
• Splurge on nice candles. Light them for yourself daily. Light the not-nice ones for guests. Not the other way around.
• Lie on the couch and do other things than watch TV. Like read a book or listen to classical music.
• Watch old movies. You know…back when people used stamps, and women dressed for travel. There’s a lot to learn from the “olden days.”
• Limit TV.
• Listen to NPR. Especially opera on NPR. Pretty much everything you need to know about life is in operas.
• Make sure to have musical instruments and keep them within eye-range so you’ll actually play them. Guitars and pianos welcome group jam sessions.
• Always have a drum somewhere for that person who claims they “aren’t musical.”
• Have board games and cards in a drawer or on a shelf. Play them. Especially Scrabble, backgammon, gin rummy, Farkle, and Scattagories.
• Have guide books and binoculars. It’s good to know your birds and flowers and other critters. Even in the city, there are hawks.

Bathroom:
• Have nice hand towels and nice soap in your powder room. Your guests should feel special.
• Use your powder room. You should feel special too!
• Always have an extra roll of toilet paper in each bathroom.
• And a plunger. (Replace plungers every-so-often, unless you are the type to wash and disinfect toilet plungers. Dirty secret: I’m not. That’s what the second flush is for.)
• Don’t forget to wash the toilet flusher handle when you wash your toilets. They are dearly overlooked. (Try not to think about that too much in hotel rooms.)
• Put nice art in your bathrooms. And magazines. You can learn a lot about a person from their bathroom.
• Supply room spray.

Bedroom:

Don’t be a slob.  Pick up your clothes.  If they’re not dirty, put them somewhere to wear again during the week, like in a hamper in your closet. NOT on a chair. And definitely NOT on your treadmill. Like your mother. Who then forgets she has a treadmill.
• Wash your sheets at least once a month.
• Splurge on nice sheets and feather pillows.
• If the person/people with whom you are sharing your room snore, make sure you have earplugs by your bed.
• Supply your nightstand with books that you want to read when you grow up: a book of poetry, a spiritual text of some sort, a classic novel, something on the best-seller list that is not written by a celebrity.
• If you eat breakfast in bed, use a tray. Crumbs are worse than bed-bugs in some cases, especially if you’ve listened to your mother and splurged on good bread.
• Eat breakfast in bed, but not lunch or dinner. That means you’re depressed.
• Do not let your dog sleep with you. Or your babies. They need a bed of their own, and so do you.
• Sleep in every-so-often. Like till eleven. This will get harder and harder the older you get.

Closet:
• You’re on your own on this one, but do get nice hangers if possible.
• Oh, and do accept that your “skinny” clothes are probably a thing of the past if you haven’t been able to fit into them for a few years…

Office:

Virginia Woolf was right—you need a room of your own, even it’s in an eave, or a closet under a stairway, or (if you’re lucky enough) a whole studio over your garage, or an unoccupied bedroom, or a renovated garden shed.  Claim space for yourself!

• Don’t allow people to come and go without knocking.
• If you have children, always have an available chair in it for them. It’s important to have your own space, but it’s also important that they know that your work does not take away your motherhood.
• This one is really really important: Whatever it is that you do in that office, whether it’s a vocation or avocation, make sure it’s something you love. NOT something that you are necessarily good at. If you happen to be good at what you love, then that’s a bonus, but not a rule!

Outside:
• Have a communal outdoor space that feels like a room in your house, but isn’t exactly…like: A screened porch, fire escape, hammock, hot tub, front stoop, garden or terrace. It doesn’t have to be big. Just a place where you sit at least once every few days and dream a little.

A few extra extras:
• Write handwritten notes on nice stationary to people you love. That’s where the stamp comes in…
• Try not to kill bugs. If they’re inside, put a mason jar over them and take them outside. They do elegant things like lick the wax off the peony buds so that they can bloom. (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there.) (Mice are a different story. If you’ve had one die in the walls, you’ll know what I mean.)
• Practice Yes and Possibility instead of No and Not Possible. Positive begets positive and negative begets negative. You don’t want the latter.
• Have fun, for crying out loud! Life is beautiful and heartbreaking any way you slice it so you might as well enjoy the ride!
• There is no such thing as cool.
• Judge not.
• Don’t mistake a full schedule for a full life. If you find yourself saying, “There’s never a dull moment,” you should probably make it a goal to have at least one “dull moment” every day.
• Take walks. (especially in the rain)
• Sing.
• Dance.
• Read poetry.
• Have dogs.
• Grow a garden.
• Travel.
• Create the sacred wherever you are.
• Be kind to old people and remember they know a lot more than you do. Ask them to tell you their stories.
• Know that there are saints everywhere. Look for them. They’re often where you least expect it.
Call your mother. Texting is a challenge since she can never find her reading glasses. Plus, she likes to hear your voice. It reminds her of lying in bed with you when you were little, reading books, singing, praying, watching the moon, dreaming. And she loves you no matter what, which is hard to find.
DRINK WATER

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