Category Archives: My Posts

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 Cabin Fever Tunes


In case you’re going out of your skull with cabin fever, here are some tunes to bring on Spring!  (inspired by my Facebook friends…)

Be Brave– Sarah Barellies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

Beautiful—Carol King http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJn3QJYYBr0

The Man- Aloe Blacc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGy9i8vvCxk

Best Day of My Life-  American Authors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y66j_BUCBMY

Happy- Pharrell Williams http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM

Carry On-  Fun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7yCLn-O-Y0

Raise Your Glass-  Pink http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjVNlG5cZyQ

Treasure- Bruno Mars http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPvuNsRccVw

Love Me Again- John Newman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfihYWRWRTQ

Mr. Brightside—The Killers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGdGFtwCNBE

Just Like Heaven—The Cure http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suYPHagzghU

Kid Creole and the Coconuts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UWU2X7fk_8

Do I Do-Stevie Wonder http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQEBZfG5SaY

I Will Survive-Donna Summers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9C-39ahwHY

That’s Life-Frank Sinatra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzPOn9rYty8

Rock Steady-Aretha Franklin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOj9lPbp1I4

Respectable-The Rolling Stones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptDz5BwAgXQ

That’s What Makes You Beautiful-One Direction  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJO3ROT-A4E

Mamba #5-Lou Bega http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeqOLxRDsV8

Closer to Fine-Indigo Girls http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUgwM1Ky228

Crazy-Gnarls Barkley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2B6SjMh_w

Love Shack-B52s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs

Just Dance-Lady Gaga http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Abk1jAONjw

Car Wash-Rose Royce http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFVcqVM9vhw

Play That Funky Music-Wild Cherry http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDZsNksbw2Qm

Burning Down The House-Talking Heads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNnAvTTaJjM

Beautiful Day-U2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co6WMzDOh1o

Brown Eyed Girl-Van Morrison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfmkgQRmmeE&feature=kp

Strawberry Swing-Coldplay http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3pJZSTQqIg

Spinning-Elephant Revival http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMUQqLK65_U

If I Ever Leave This World Alive-Flogging Molly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVPTu4l6OnE

Flying-Green River Ordinance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE7Paf5VtWw

Those Summer Nights-Journey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBvwemf-Eqg

Don’t Worry- Bob Marley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaGUr6wzyT8

Sweet Dreams-Eurythmics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeMFqkcPYcg

Titanium-David Guetta http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRfuAukYTKg

What A Wonderful World-Louis Armstrong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

 

 

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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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Haven Winter # 9

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the last in a series of nine guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

 

The Power of Taking a StandJacquelyn Jackson

The Haven Retreat had ended just seven minutes earlier.  I could still feel the warmth of the goodbye hugs we shared after breakfast, a gentle Arizona sun at our backs.

At breakfast, I picked at an egg-white omelet while Laura read to the eight of us gathered for our last meal in the Tack Room at the Tubac Golf Resort, 20 miles north of the Mexican border. Laura talked about accepting what was and was not within her control.

“Our happiness,” she read from her book, “Our ability to love, to be in a place of harmony with ourselves and beyond – is not outside ourselves…it’s all here. In us. It always was.”

Tubac offers a haven of earth, air, fire and water: elemental grounding that made it easy to release anxiety and doubt. The sentry strength of the Santa Rita Mountains, rugged and ancient, protects the eastern border. Blue-sky-fluffy-white-clouds, straight out of central casting, demonstrate the artistry of spun air. Candles fired our way each day and water, so spare and revered in the Sonoran Desert, shimmers in man-made lakes and the nature-made Santa Cruz River meandering to the east.  This elemental beauty, laced with Laura’s words, beckoned us to take a stand for our deepest truths.

While we were invited to share our work only when comfortable, Laura mandated to those who arrived with a stuck-book inside a written one-sentence book statement.

I have researched and written extensively on the female body; I executive produced the documentary version of The Body Project, a book by Cornell Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg.  My writing has focused on the impact of external female body obsessions on internal health and well-being.  The burning question I have pondered for years: How do we revere internal over external and more deeply respect and heed the body’s innate wisdom.

Despite, or maybe because of, my years of pondering some form of “body” book, I struggled to write one concise sentence. Rewriting, striking out, groaning and starting again, I finally wrote this:  My story of overcoming fear and finally and fully returning home to my body and voice.

After the retreat, I mulled my statement, especially “overcoming fear.”  I googled “women and fear” and a litany of collective fears spilled forth: aging, rape, violence, feminism, not being liked, loving too much, power, obesity, leaning in, success, failure. And these from other parts of the world: death for driving or revealing an ankle in public.

In 2011, my life was slimed with fear and anxiety.  On a bright blue January morning, I witnessed the mass murder of dear friends in Tucson when one insane man came gunning for Gabrielle Giffords.  I escaped death by seconds but did not escape watching the gunman kill and maim my friends. Eleven months later my beloved brother went from running 10K’s to dead in seven days. A brain tumor we did not know he had.

I was faced with two choices: survive the terror and feel my way back into my body, or give up.  I chose breath work, yoga and therapy. Writing the book statement helped me see, in one declarative sentence, the heart of my story. Fear, I realized, has been lodged in my body for many years. The acute fears of 2011 led me to unearth older fears that lingered deep inside. The act of excavation strengthened my body and voice.

And now it is three months after the Haven Retreat in Tubac, and one month into a new year, and the courage infused by the Haven Retreat has exploded in my world.  In this first month of 2014, I gave notice, landed a weekly column, sold our house, bought a new, smaller house and got a dog – Benny – a white fluffy mix who was found wandering the mean streets of Tucson. I still have not lost the 15 pounds I want to let go of but I am a bit cocky about the stand I am taking.

I doff my hat to Laura, whose X-ray vision sees within what we sometimes cannot see for ourselves. Her warmth and sincerity are like a gentle flame, luring us out of ourselves.  Her fierce spirit exerts a midwifery force, compelling the creative inside to birth itself into the world.

I am heading to Montana in June for one more slice of the Haven pie.  My advice: take a stand for who you are and what you know – the results are delicious.

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Amtrak Ode– The Train to Haven

1947-empire-builder
Every-so-often, there is a perfect confluence in life—even in the life of a writer. When childhood romanticism meets adult sentimentalism, when whimsy and bravery stand side-by-side, when the world of possibility opens and you can see clearly through a widened “peephole,” as Vonnegut calls our limited perception of the world. That happened this weekend when I learned that Amtrak is offering free “residencies” aboard their trains for writers. Woah. Instant tears flowed fast.

You see, I come from Chicago train people. And I live in a small mountain train town where the train is the one solid thing that connects my life here to whence I came. I’ve been here for twenty years, have built my home and raised children and written and basked in the beauty of all that northwest Montana gifts us season after season…but Chicago will always be my starting point.

When I told my father I was moving to Whitefish, Montana, he got tears in his eyes (it runs in the family). “What a beautiful part of the world. I used to take the Empire Builder there when I was a young man in the 1940s, calling on railroad customers. I loved watching the city turn to farmland, and the Great Plains, and then the Badlands, and then the Rockies. I used to look out the window and just dream.”
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Whenever I’m having a hard day, I go to the Whitefish Depot, like a Chicagoan goes to Lake Michigan, and watch the freight trains change tracks with names I grew up knowing thanks to my father: GATX, Santa Fe, Burlington Northern. From my childhood bedroom in suburban Chicago, I used to listen to the gentle chugging of the Milwaukee Railroad, comforted that there was someone else awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes when I see the gleaming silver Amtrak waiting at the station, I think: “I could hop on and go home.” It brings me that same comfort to know that I am still connected to “home” in this small town in the shadow of the great peaks of Glacier National Park.images

The last time I took my kids back to Chicago, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. “I want to show you something,” I told them, ushering them to one of my childhood treasures. “It’s the train room! It’s a model of the route of the Empire Builder from here all the way to the west coast. My dad used to take me here. It’s the coolest model train ever built!” I said, remembering how I’d hold his hand as he traced the lights of Chicago across the country all the way to the ports of Seattle, marveling at all his days riding those rails as a businessman and journeyer.

“Mom, why are you crying?” they both said.

“It’s all just so beautiful. Taking your time. Going slow. Watching our wonderful world go by from the safety and comfort of a train car. Meeting people in the dining car, chatting about life, comparing notes about places to see. I love trains. This used to be the way everybody travelled. They would dress up for meals. They would socialize and revel in the landscape. I trust trains much more than I do airplanes. I always feel so grounded and happy when I pull into a train station after a long ride. When I land at airports, I feel disoriented. Sometimes speed and convenience are way over-rated!”

“Look, Mom,” my twelve year old squealed. “It’s our train station!”amtrak

And sure enough, there was a little model of the Whitefish depot. I’d spent hours in this room, gazing at the Empire Builder line with my father, but I didn’t remember that building. Surely I’d watched my father point his way through the Rocky Mountains to this tiny depot, built in the design of the great lodges of Glacier National Park by the visionary train baron, Louis W. Hill who brought the east to the Rockies in comfort and style. Surely I’d looked at that little depot and wondered what the wilds of a place like Montana would be like. Talk about full circle, watching my son stand there with his eyes blazing, feeling so proud of his home. Like a game of tag from my original home to his…all connected by the Empire Builder.
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A few years ago, I started leading retreats in our stunning part of the world. I realized that after leading the writing life with all my heart for almost three decades, my muse basking in the mountains of Montana, that it made good sense to share it with other kindred seekers. So I founded Haven Retreats. Hundreds of people have come to Montana to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page, in search of greater self-awareness, whether or not they call themselves “writers.” Some do. Some don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that opened “peephole,” and Montana knows how to inspire that in spades.

Yes, people come to Haven by plane, car, bus. But they also come by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Louis W. Hill would be proud of these stalwart travelers who have been known to ride thirty hours here and thirty hours back post-retreat. And every time, those who ride the train rave about how the rhythm of the tracks and the views from the window put them in the perfect mind-frame to engage fully in our intensive four days together, tucked into the woods of Montana, and process their experience as they make their way back into their lives, re-fueled, inspired, empowered.

I can think of no better way to come to a Haven Retreat than through that little Whitefish train depot. With this new amazing offer from Amtrak for writers to ride for FREE, it truly is the perfect confluence: experience a personal writing “residency” on the train, enjoy a Haven Retreat in our beautiful part of the world just a matter of miles from the train station, and write your way back home!
I hope that if you are considering a Montana Haven Retreat, that you will also consider this golden offer from Amtrak!

A special thanks to Alexander Chee for stating his love for writing on trains and inspiring this incredible offer! And to Jessica Gross for making a “trial run!”
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From my father’s obit in the Chicago Tribune: 260060_10150205192746266_3265283_n

John C. Munson made a run at retiring when he turned 65. It lasted three days.

“He hated retirement,” said his wife of 48 years, Virginia. “His great passion was work, and ever since he was a little boy playing with his trains he has loved the railroad industry.”

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Haven Winter # 8

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the eighth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

 

My Tubac, by Gwen Vogelzang

The tears stunned me.  Not just a drop from my baby blues down to the crisp clean page.  Sobbing, body quivering tears in a bathroom stall, coming from the innards of my gut and my exposed heart.  My totally exposed and shockingly vulnerable heart.  I expected pretty tears and profound revelations to rock me during my Haven Retreat.  Revelations of what I was capable of, what others could do to inspire my writing, what 5 days of fabulous food, wine and childless sleeping could do for my soul.

Those revelations were handed to me.  Just not on the sparkly silver tray I expected them to be delivered on.  They were more like gentle but deliberate jabs to the gut.  Along with the tears came this foreign fear about what might lie ahead if I indeed followed the journey I was telling myself I was being called to follow. I was about to quit my cushy job and move into full time writing.  It was a calling I couldn’t ignore.  I had books in mind – too many projects to even begin to summarize in a logical train of thought.  I was filled with exuberance and peace about my future as a writer.

What I know now is my sobbing at The Haven was brought on by unexpected fear.  Fear about the relentless passion I had for my subject.  Fear about the vulnerability that would naturally come with my journey.  Fear about the process.  At one point I seceded to my fear. My mind gave up and my heart was terrified to argue. Until I entered Laura’s morning session and was gifted with that silver tray, containing my truth.  The fear and the bathroom stall sobbing was my heart language.  It was the fuel that will ignite my career.  It’ll set my words ablaze.  The Haven gifted me with that treasure.  This aint gonna be a joy ride but it’s my calling.  My heart language.  My future.  The Haven and the graceful guidance of Laura Munson was the entry point to my soul getting on board.

Haven, by Joanne Burch

Haven Writer’s Retreat, what could it be?

A total surprise! Something I had not imagined.

From the first day, we were a group of friends, saying what we felt and feeling what we said. Laughing, joking, writing, cheering one another on when the written was read aloud. Two young mothers, friends and professed opposites – one organized and one not. Two grandmas/great-grandmas in their 70s with views from the past. And in between, two more ladies and one lone man, who was capable enough to withstand, and jokingly get the best of, all us women. All from a variety of backgrounds: rancher to city dwellers adding their viewpoints to the stew.

What had I imagined? Hmmm. A Teacher sitting up there telling us how to write, using a boring professorial voice.

Reality 1: Laura was one of the gang, a friend, laughing, cheering us on, offering her “immediate” writings to the prompt for us to judge. Laura answered all questions when asked: “How do you publish? How do you…? What is the best way…?”

Reality 2: Inspiring prompts written by the class members – added to prompts relying on three abstract words: fish, black, half. Fun to write and hear the responses. Other prompts were provided for those moments when we had more time to think and formulate an answer. Each night we could sign up to read and receive input to some longer writing project.

My imagination: Retreat? Will that mean a lot of psychological talk about finding the inner-me? I am a great grandmother. I found the inner-me long ago.  If I had not, I would have withered and died by now.

Reality 1: A few comments about strength of character – as it came up to each of us. Not a “Tell me now.” Just an open and free chance for each to mention something if we wanted to. A totally enjoyable reunion with old friends that I had just met.

Reality 2:  Facing the fact that I do have time to write. 

Check out Laura’s upcoming retreats,some may be near to your town.  Make a point of attending. It is well worth it.

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Heart Language

heart_houseHappy Valentines Day to you all from the heart of my home to yours.

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Conflict: A Love Story

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As featured on Huffington Post 50

As some of you know, I’m spending the winter working on a novel I’ve wanted to write for many years.  It’s a love story.  Usually I write the “one woman’s search for _________________” kind of book.  But this time there are two protagonists, a man and a woman, and the story spans over fifty years of their lives.  It’s a made-up jaunt in the fields of abundant love, and who wouldn’t want to play around in those fields?  The bummer is…turns out, a love story is hard to write.  Go figure.  I thought it would be a breeze.

Here’s why:  in the story of every important relationship, real or imagined…there is a conflict.  It’s not about avoiding the conflict, or denying it, or being afraid to meet it head on—it’s about accepting the conflict and learning how to navigate it with all your heart.  That’s not easy when you factor in the origin and foundation of each player’s sense of self, future, safety, risk.  A love story can be blood-sport, and it often is.  It’s how you play the game that matters.  (Not that it’s a game—I’m just using a metaphor.  At least I didn’t use “s***-storm.”)

Most of us do not want to accept this universal truth.  We want our relationships to come easily, without bumps and hiccoughs, never mind gutting pain or bottomless challenges or high-altitude hopelessness.

In fact, you may be one of the people out there who blithely claims that there is no conflict in your relationships.  But I’m not sure I would believe you.  I have a Golden Retriever, known to be one of the most docile, uncomplicated, forgiving, accepting creatures on earth.  And believe me, we are in conflict every single day, and for a large part of it.

It goes something like this:  “No, I can’t pet you—you rolled in deer guts in the woods and you reek and I don’t have time to give you a bath.  Don’t give me those eyes again.  I can’t handle the guilt!  I have a deadline and I’m late to pick up the kids!  And no you can’t come in the car because you rolled in deer guts in the woods!  That’s what you get for being a Montana dog!  Maybe you’d rather live in a three story walk up in lower Manhattan and regularly go to a dog groomer, and enjoy Chinese take-out at the dog park!  I apologize for your 20 acres!  I know—I’m a horrible horrible person.  All you want is a little love.  I love you.  Does that work?  Do you speak English?  Can I write you a love poem instead of touching you right now?  Ugh.  I promise, I’ll get one of the kids to wash you later today.  I just don’t have time right now!  At least I let you in the house with the deer guts all over you!  Can you throw me a bone here?  Ok, that’s twisted.  I know.  Especially when I haven’t given you a bone in a long long time.  It’s probably my fault that you went out foraging for animal bones.  You’re probably lacking in calcium or something.”

And that’s just my relationship with my Golden Retriever.  You should hear my conversations with my teens!

This afternoon it sounded something like:  “I’ll give you five bucks to give the dog a bath.”

“I’ve got homework.”

“I’ve got basketball practice.”

“How about ten?”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.  Do you want me to show you the C-section scar again???”

“Fine.  I’ll do it for fifteen.  But I’m still mad at you for not teaching me how to do a somersault.”

I offered my best glare.  I should never have taught them how to negotiate so well.  Mother of the Year.

And so the dog, the dog I love, does not get rubbed behind the ears for the better part of the day.  But at least he gets to stay in the house.  (I don’t profess to have the cleanest house.  We choose our battles.)  And the teens, they get their homework done, and the dog gets washed eventually, and we sit at the table on that rare night when everybody’s home and we talk.  What do we talk about usually?  Relationships.  About them being hard.  With teachers, and friends, and family members, and bosses.  That’s the stuff of life:  conflict.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Otherwise we talk about the things you talk about when you’re trying to help your kid not have nightmares.   And strawberry shortcake and fields of daisies only go so far.  Strawberries mold, and daisies wilt, and fields get hit by thunderstorms and blight.

Think about it.  Even jokes have conflict.  They wouldn’t be jokes without them.  Here’s our family favorite:  ”So  there’re two muffins in an oven.  One muffin says to the other:  It sure is hot in here.  And the other muffin says, Wow.  A talking muffin.”  Conflict:  Muffin vs.  Nature.  Muffin vs.  Muffin.   Muffin vs. Itself.

The fun of it all is in Conflict Resolution.  After the dog gets his bath and you are snuggling with him, rubbing him behind the ears and down his back, after the kids forgive you for not teaching them to do a somersault, fifteen dollars richer, after the house is quiet and the I love yous get whispered…that’s when I’m thankful for the love story and its inherent conflicts.

There is an arc to love.  It doesn’t just hatch and bloom and self-groom.  It comes, double-helix sometimes, like the Northern Lights.  But one thing is sure:  it comes.  Maybe not in the way you’d like to write it—as a beautiful, sweeping, epic love story.  Maybe it just wants you to scratch behind its ears.  And take it for a drive with the window down.

…Or maybe you want to love yourself, and give yourself a Haven Retreat!

The next Haven is from April 2-6 at the fab El Ganzo in Los Cabos, Mexico– considered one of the most romantic places in the world.  It all begins with self-love:

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Haven Winter # 7

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the seventh in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

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.

Haven by Stephanie Maley

Writing was something I did for myself. Pages of self discovery, life experiences, and dreams, splattered flimsy journals. Now as a professional photographer, I knew I needed writing direction. Laura Munson’s words spoke to me in a personal way. After reading her book, “This Is Not The Story you Think It Is,” I felt connected. I knew I could learn from her. When she offered a writing retreat, I leapt at the chance to attend.

Short on trust and long on self doubt, I journeyed my way to Montana. Being at Haven was like bathing in warm light. From Laura’s squealing delight at meeting me, her faithful blog follower, until I boarded my plane for home, I felt loved and accepted. The attentive staff, vegan meals, snuggly down beds, and daily “love” mail from Laura, wrapped around me like a moth’s cocoon.

I took risks in this Haven. I shared secrets. Dressed in PJ’s, surrounded by my fellow retreatents and a hearty fire, I opened the pages of my heart. Words poured forth and bounced back with objective suggestions. Each of us reaching out to one another. My love of the power of words deepened. Story after story filled the smokey air. Raw, flesh- tearing, and humorous words kept us riveted.

Our group marches forward, together. We share our writings and seek advice from one another. Our private Facebook page keeps our connections strong. Some of us have been able to see each other beyond Montana. We cheer from the sidelines for each other and keep the Haven spirit alive. When my own writing progress stutters, I am reminded that I am still loved and accepted.

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Haven Winter Series # 6

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the sixth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

Silencing the Head Noise by Lindsay Henry

Everything in my life felt cluttered:  My bedroom, my desk, my stack of Things to Do.

My mind.

My mind was constantly cluttered. Cluttered with thoughts. Ideas. Dreams—dreams of hardcover books with my byline telling tales buried deep within me.

When I learned my new favorite author Laura Munson hosted writing retreats in Montana, I decided to go. Maybe this will help me get out of my chaotic mind’s way, I thought. I wanted to take my writing seriously, to be amongst others like me, and, at 25-years-old, do something adventurous. Step out of the box. You know, really take the bull by the horns, carpe diem and all that.

It was the end of February when I breathed in Montana’s fresh air and stepped my boots onto melted snow, ready for this retreat. I set my eyes on Laura Munson and we embraced in a hug that felt more sisterly than first–time-meeting.

The next few days, I bonded with my fellow Haven retreaters over writing activities and green tea, conversation and quinoa. Laura was lovely, gently guiding us as we stepped out of our own ways to get thoughts on the page. The writing activities, the feedback, the friendship ….It was exactly what I needed.

On the second day, my brain was bursting with inspiration. Then I went into the yoga studio, and my mind was blown.

I signed up for yoga as one of our non-writing retreat activities. Joined by two other retreaters, we walked into the gorgeous yoga studio with glass windows overlooking the Montana landscape. A petite woman with a calm, kind face named Arlisa was our instructor.

Clothed in sweatpants and uncertainty, I stepped onto the studio hardwood floors, my socks sliding as I grabbed a yoga mat. My brain chatter was already going: “Don’t fall on the floors; don’t forget to finish that writing sample; are you going to read it to the group later? Maybe you shouldn’t; it’s not very good.”

As soon as Arlisa spoke, though, my brain quieted. I was surprised. After years of listening to my constant stream of chaotic thoughts, I welcomed the peace as we stretched.

Near the end of the session, Arlisa instructed us to lie on our backs. She spoke in a calm voice. “Picture a ball of light,” she said. “Send that ball of light throughout your entire body.”

Half-asleep, I lay still on my yoga mat. Suddenly, a small voice whispered, “You are seeking approval. Let it go.”

The voice wasn’t like my normal brain chatter. It wasn’t commanding or stern, nor matter-of-fact. This voice was kind and gentle. Familiar.

My heart’s voice.

Yoga allowed my chaotic mind to be silent long enough so my heart could speak up. And when she spoke, she spoke clearly.

I carry that lesson with me to this day. Despite the brain clutter and chaos, my heart has a voice, too. Since that day, I try not to forget to sit still and listen.

 

Upping the Ante by Mary Novaria

“UP THE ANTE ON EXPOSING YOURSELF” was scribbled across the back of page seven.  Oh, I felt plenty exposed already, having dared to share snippets of my fledgling memoir, the quintessential work in progress that was nowhere near finished and, in fact, was scarcely begun. But it’s hard to ignore a command given in all caps and Laura Munson had dared me to bare my soul. She may as well have asked me to go skinny-dipping off the dock. Could I possibly expose myself as audaciously as those geese that declare dawn each day at the ranch? Where, before the moon has even set, they honk and flap and skitter in a vee knowing full well it’s their job to rid the morning fog from the surface of the pond?

I fear exposure. What if I’m exposed as a fraud? Revealed as one who merely pretends to be a writer, but who isn’t one… not really? Beyond the writing, what if I’m exposed as someone who is, well, a rather flawed human?

My mother once asked how it was that I became so close to my best friend. “We got naked together,” I said, meaning we’d bared our souls, shared our secrets, confessed all—especially the not-so-nice things that are unworthy of a Hallmark card. We’d stripped down to the barebones truths and that gave our friendship an authenticity born of trust.

Exposing one’s self can be dirty business. Even if I could spin a fairytale like silk or cloak an adventure in a superhero’s cape, the fabric wears out eventually. Then, there I am with my remorse exposed and the ante upped in stories that are ugly and raw: I slapped my teenage daughter… I was embarrassed by my mother’s dementia… I binged and purged… The truth will be written in drops of blood, for to expose myself is to pierce my heart.

 

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