Category Archives: My Posts

Montana Ode to Spring– A Walk In The Woods

…in honor of all mothers of every kind everywhere…

“If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (god forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else: if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.” ― Rick Bass

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Sandhill Crane

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photo credit: fwallpapers.com

There are days in Montana when you feel like you are actually dancing with flora and fauna. On just a regular Saturday drive through the woods, in addition to countless critters, today I saw some rare ones:
A Sandhill Crane
A Black Bear

A Loon
A Trumpeter Swan
A Bald Eagle with a fish in its talons

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

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Arnica

And some springtime favorites:
Calypso Orchid (Fairy Slippers)
Glacier Lily
Oregon Grape
Arnica
Wild Strawberry

And my very favorite NW Montana tree: (the only conifer to lose its needles each fall) The Larch, so new and green among its fellow soldier conifers

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Calypso Orchid

 

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Larch

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Glacier Lily

 

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Wild Strawberry

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Oregon Grape

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Loons

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I would love to share my Montana Muse with you at a Haven Retreat
2015 (now booking)

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (almost full)
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
–John Muir

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We Must Hunger for Our Voice!

How do we commit to our creativity regularly?  Powerfully?  With a hunger that we sate…over and over again?  How do we find our unique voice and give ourselves permission to let it roar out of us?

Helping you find the answer to these questions is my central mission these days.

If you’re wondering what a Haven Retreat is all about, hear it straight from its proud founder!  Come to Montana and share what over 300 from all over the world have experienced.  You do NOT have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…

2015 Haven Schedule:

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (filling fast)
September 23-27 (filling fast)
October 7-11
October 21-25

Radio show with Kink FM host Sheila Hamilton


LMWritingHaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE YOU ARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Inner Critter: Awareness First. The Writing Will Follow.

inner critter

As featured in Huffington Post

I recently had a woman come on my Haven Writing Retreat and say, “I learned more in five days of Haven than in my entire MFA program…and I’m still paying it off six years later!”  I hear this sort of overture all too often, and it concerns me.  I also hear, “I’m still chiseling my way out of my college Creative Writing classes and some of the emotional damage I endured there.”  Same goes for many writing workshops that people take in hopes of learning more about their unique voice and how to cultivate it through craft, feedback, and the help of a strong teacher.  It takes guts, putting yourself out there like that.  And it saddens me that while there are so many incredible teachers and writing programs…so many people come in to an instructional writing environment with their hearts in their hands, shivering a bit in their boots, taking a leap of faith with the belief that they will be held responsibly by the experience and the people in it…only to have their guts gutted.  Not on my watch!

My approach is to help people take that heart-in-the-hand and turn it into heart language…and that is a very delicate process.  At my retreats, feedback is something that comes second.  First, we must learn to have the courage to find our most white hot triggering subjects, to free-fall into them, to surface with words on the page and share them out loud without scrutiny– to simply have them heard, to trust that in-so-doing we are helping others to cultivate their ear, and to finally understand once and for all that our voice is unique.  It’s real.  It matters.  And that massive act doesn’t start with creating something that we splay open for people to feast on or send back to the kitchen.

It all begins with self-awareness.

Sounds lofty?  It isn’t.  I hear over and over people saying, “I’m stuck.”  Or “Why does my writing even matter?”  Or “Who do I think I am?  Nobody asked me to write.  It’s self-indulgent drivel at best.”  Or “I’m not good enough.”  And do you know who is delivering up those words?  The inner critic.  (I like to call it the Inner Critter.)   Most of us are not even aware of that voice that lives inside us, viciously so.

Unfortunately, I have been in a long-term abusive relationship with my Inner Critter for years.  My Inner Critter poses as an Ivy League tweed-clad professor, and I tend to assign immediate power to anyone boasting to have a “smart” bespectacled academic Joyce-ean opinion, especially about writing.  For years, I allowed that snivelly old sod to rule the roost in my writing chair.  Then one day I heard someone say, “You wouldn’t treat your worst enemy the way you treat yourself in your own mind.”  And I realized:  That’s who I’ve become.  That’s what’s in my way. I am my own worst enemy.  I hadn’t even been aware of it until that moment.  It wasn’t that I ever, for one second, stopped writing.  It was that I hadn’t given myself permission to understand that no one on earth can write like I can.  It’s not possible.  Each writer’s voice is as unique as a snowflake.  Or a grain of sand.  Or a finger print.  Or your Grandma’s apple pie.

So I declared war.

For awhile, I tried to exorcise the Inner Critter into the Inner Critter Sh**ter, deeming her the enemy and treating her thusly.  That didn’t work.  Because even though she was a confluence of many people and institutions of my life, I’d created her, invited her to live in my mind, and fed her the fat along with the lean.  Declaring war on her meant that I was in a war with myself.  Not a great place from which to tease the muse.  The muse just stood there chewing gum twirling her keys, waiting for me to get a clue.  Turns out, she has really great keys to really great worlds as long as I know how to take care of what goes on in my mind.  The inherent problem with this was that not only hadn’t I been aware of how I was treating myself in my mind, I also had become used to it.  And habits are hard to break.  In all honesty, the Inner Critter liked living in my mind (why wouldn’t she—such five star accommodations?) and frankly, she was a better fighter than I was.

Haven Patron Saint-- SIster in Words

Haven Patron Saint– Guarding the Muse from the Inner Critter

So I took another tack:  I decided that the Inner Critter was really just a scared little girl that lives inside me with a large megaphone to my heart.  And if my daughter came in to my room in the middle of the night raging over a bad dream I wouldn’t kick her out.  I’d hug her, love her, calm her until she went back to sleep.  I tried it, and it worked!  I learned to daily lullaby my Inner Critter into a long nap so that my muse and I could unlock the world of possibility I so longed to explore.  To enter, and to play!  We knew how to do this when we were children.  We just lose our way a little (or a lot) as we go.

I believe that we need to begin here if we are to paint that world with the broad strokes of a Creator all the way to the exacting Pointillism that shows the holy in the mundane—the nouns our hands touch.  It takes heart-in-the-hand-self-aware-guts to go at this thing called the Writing Life.  And once we have all of this in its right place…we can start to know what Picasso meant when he said, “If they took away my paints I’d use pastels.  If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.”  Or what Michelangelo meant when he said that the sculpture was in the stone; it was his job to release it.

Once we are in that free place of creation, we begin to hunger for our voices.  Why?  Because we are in a natural flow.  Once we are in that flow, it even gets easy.  We’re no longer in our way.  We understand that with every single thing we write, there is an inherent problem.  Of course there is.  Our job is to find the problem and solve it.  The Inner Critter can’t scare us with this challenge any more.  We understand that with every story and every character, real or imagined, there is conflict, and that conflict is blessed terrain.  It’s where all the good questions and good answers live.  Once we have solved a few of these writerly “problems” and rolled around in the conflict that they embody…what was once scary now becomes our guide into the great wilderness of the world we are drawing with our words.  Then we are ready to give and receive feedback for our work.   Then we can get into the elements of style like plot arc, characterization, narrative drive.  Then we can get into the scenes and breathe our characters alive.  Then we can allow their minds to be in the clouds, and their feet to be on the ground.  Then we can show exactly who they are in the way they make a bed.  We don’t need to tell a thing.  It’s all shown.  It’s all there.  We’ve released the sculpture from the stone.  And the heart of the world we’ve created…beats all on its own.

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Haven Winter Blog Contest Winner

I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our Haven winter blog series, I loved reading about the transformation that happens when we open our hearts to it. I’d also like to announce the winner of the series, who will receive a discount to a future Haven retreat: Sarah Hunter! Thank you so much for your words, Sarah. Click here to read what she had to say about her experience.

I’ll be offering a special Haven retreat at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, MT between April 29 and May 3, please email me at laura@lauramunsonauthor.com for more information.

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

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

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles.  These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction.  This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later.  This is what can happen when people gather to write in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a mediation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.  I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life:  Do I have to do this alone?  Is there anyone out there who cares?  Is there anyone out there who can help me?”  Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no method to find your voice.  Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language.  It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done.  Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself this unstoppable experience.

Here is a piece that was born on the second day of our most recent Haven Retreat.

By Laura Probert  

“Write that down! Write that down! No really, write it down right now,” our brave teacher says, her prone, mermaid-like position on the floor filling me with delight. Her hearty laughter, triggered by one woman’s story of pocketed, dirty underwear, and other “holy, mundane” things, as Laura calls them…is the music that plays in the background of my heaven. Heaven sits in the way my bean bag lounging seat-mate briefly grabs my forearm and looks at me with her excited “OMG, me too!” smile.

If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, in Montana, in a place tucked away between towering mountain peaks, a frozen lake where a beaver I haven’t seen yet makes his home, and the calming Southern drawls of my classmates. “I like simple poems. Poems that cut to the heart,” I hear and I whip my head around to see if Laura is shooting a laser beam of ESP into my temple. Does she know I think my poems are too simple, too dumb for other people to enjoy?

“I love that part where you…” another Haven participant continues in a soft, kind tone that adds to the symphony of other women’s voices in the room. We all nod and smile and nod, everyone in a melodic unison of recognition, leaving the courageous reader with hopefully very little doubt…we get it, we love it, please, rip our hearts out. Make us feel fiercely alive again. Do that thing you are already doing. Give us more!

I am in heaven here. This place. These women. These women gathered together by a gently desperate but increasingly bolder longing to know that what they have to say matters. That their passion is worth pursuing in this particular form of art. To know that they are loved for who they are. I sit deep in this comfy chair, buzzing with recognition. “This is where you belong,” I hear an angel’s voice. It must be an angel, because this must be heaven.  Heaven, because I have permission to say it like it is.

When I mine my life for gold, I realize the treasure is in the too raw, too real, too emotional, too ugly moments that make up my life. These women beg, “Show me your ugly!” They demand I tear the bandage off my wounds to air them out. They help me know why I must be me.

Laura’s encouraged us to be to be the perfectly obsessed, Target-shopping, fine messes that we are. Dirty underwear in our pockets, grief strewn across our swords and hospital gowns, we are warriors. Bring it on. Bring on your stories. Make me feel human. Make me feel alive. Make me feel loved, for me. Sprinkle me with the pink and purple glitter of your genuine, cut-to-the-chase, heart-felt, raw, naked, bloody, sobbing, painful to the point you don’t know if you will be able to speak it through the gripping ache in your chest stuff. Yeah. That stuff.

I am in heaven here. The invitation to speak taunts Martha, my fear voice, the one I named after reading a thoughtful book about love and happiness that my fearless mentor wrote. Martha squirms, uncomfortable with the idea of this party. “Nobody wants to hear your stuff.” “You’ll sound like you are bragging.” “You aren’t good enough.” The heaven sits in the way I wake up and shut that s*** down faster today, not willing to pass up this glorious opportunity for expression and acceptance. Not willing to be the wall flower at my own party one more f***ing time.

This heaven forces me to feel my life, to question it. To ask the big-ass questions. To quell the things Martha says.  That this is a hobby.  That I am nothing.  That I am not good enough.  Ping, ping, ping, ping. I feel the jabs, the shriveling. At Haven, I remember to live in the big questions instead, alive and awake to this noise that litters my playground. I get back on the swing and pump my legs until I am out of breath, until I feel the wind wash out my heart and clean up the mess my mind left.

This place. These women. This art. This magic…was meant for me. This matters. My stories matter. This heaven is a carrot that has been dangling in front of my face my whole life, waiting for me to sink my teeth into its crunchy, flavorful, nourishing, love-filled flesh. Waiting for me to eat it up and lick my lips and reach in for another bite.

My mother calls and asks me how the retreat is going.  I start sobbing, but force myself to cry-talk out the words, “I am in heaven here.  These women have softened my pain, acknowledged my heart and made me feel worthy.” This is where I belong.

 

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

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

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015

as seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

LMWritingHaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 29th-May 3rd

For more info, email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com


 

 

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Haven Winter Series #9

ForwardEvery winter I do a writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme, this post is the last in the series. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.
The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What?

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)

June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info
.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker… 

Haven on Earth
by Sasha Woods 

Have you ever known you were meant to be, or do, something, and put it off, because you didn’t know where to start, much less how to start? Where would it lead you anyway?

I’ve always loved writing and at an early age, aspired to become a writer, when, in the fourth grade, I wrote a story entitled Timothy the Mouse, and filled an entire composition book with his adventures. In the eighth grade, I was called out of class and into the hallway by my English teacher who thought I had plagiarized a story.  The same thing happened after I turned in a poem I had written.

In college, I would have majored in English, had it not been for the thoroughly dismal, absurdly boring, dry-toast sort-of-a-professor,  whose class I would have needed for the major. Barely making it to the break, I ran out of the room, across the quad, down the steps to the “Precambrian Basement”, and declared myself a Geology Major instead.  My hopes were to become the next John McPhee, but somehow life has a way of leading you along a different path and you temporarily misplace those dreams, substituting them for other dreams, sometimes even for other people.

Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who didn’t fall for the trappings of love and security, and forged your own path, or maybe you were like me, who fell for all of it, only to find yourself many years later, looking at the big 5-O hovering on your doorstep, three beautiful children and one ugly divorce later, wanting to rediscover your dream. Having told your children they could do, or be, anything they wanted in life, and the only way of accomplishing it, was to be true to themselves, and listen to their inner voice, they were doing just as you taught them.

That’s where I was last April when I read Laura Munson’s email about having an opening in one of her Haven retreats in Cabo. At the time, I felt as if I were doing just the opposite of what I had told my children. They were the ones living life to the fullest. They were the ones being true to themselves.

So, with a valid passport, notebook and pen in hand, I headed south, away from frigid, grey Chicago days, and into the tropical bliss that is Mexico. Unsure if I could write anything more entertaining than a business letter, I began. Thoughts began to unwind their way across the page. With Laura’s guidance, my inner/sitting-on-my-shoulder critic, began to sit back and drink in the scenery, leaving me alone long enough to record my mind’s meanderings, sometimes soaring high above the canyon, other times deep within it. I waited, and I wrote, no judgment, only acceptance, only love.

I returned, transformed, more confident in my written voice, still somewhat timid in my actual voice. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and yet, my practice once again began to diminish. Packing, unpacking, laundry, graduations, work, business letters, dishes, life, started intruding into my Haven, my Utopia, and my practice ebbed a little further. There were never enough hours in a day, and yet I knew I had to write, but I didn’t, though I continued to tell myself I would, soon.

Fifty came upon me in September, and I had planned to hike part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, at the end of October. In preparation, I walked as much as I could, knowing I had some pretty major obstacles (knees, feet, toe nails) to either overcome, or embrace.

While I didn’t exactly embrace the obstacles, instead, I created a blog, and though warned by my infinitely wise nephew, not to be so “plugged in” whilst on the Camino, I wrote, almost everyday, and the writing (along with some pretty intense prayer), is what pulled me through. I traveled all the way to Spain, walked 7-8 hours a day for roughly 9 days, only to discover that there are enough hours in a day, and that life can be set aside for 30-60 minutes to do something you truly enjoy, and that others truly enjoy as well, at least that’s what my blog readers told me.

SO NOW WHAT?
by Carolyn Hopper

I gave myself the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat. So. Now. What?

The aroma of spiced words, the glow of firelight, the kiss of mist rising off the lake at dawn are embedded in the sweater I wore for the entire retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch. I sink my nose in the cream nap of its wool. One sharp inhale. Another. Panic sinks in. No words rise. Only the laughter of 10 women dancing around the hearth.

I had counted on my senses staying sharp to help me coax words for the “next”? while I drove along the highway beside Flathead Lake on my journey home. But edges, like the riffles on a wind-whipped lake surface, have a way of softening.

I had counted the words and mists and warmth of the fire, I believed embedded in me at Retreat to stay sharp. Those edges too, softened. Oh, I dabbled into my almost finished story like a mallard probing the lake bottom for juicy morsels. I found a few, bland, like cream sauce. Studied Laura’s notes on the pages I had sent ahead for editing. My notes after our one-on-one. I did feel inspired and fired up for a few…weeks. But October turned golden. I basked in the glow and shimmer of aspen leaves as they flicked their leaves like castanets. Cottonwoods were ablaze in topaz and copper. I printed out my story so I could give it a good read. It gathered dust.

Until Thanksgiving. And turkey enchiladas molé. When this writer woke up. To bare trees sweeping the waxing moon like exotic brooms and winter blooms in a crazy seesaw of freeze and thaw. One day my teeth are on edge and the next I can’t stop imagining how my story, a braided complex of my mother and I during the last year and a half of her life, could end.

And I begin to imagine how the shape of the spy novel that I set aside three years ago might find new life.

Nuts  roast, spices toast, chilés soak. In all there are twenty-six ingredients from the onions that stung my eyes to the sweetness of raisins that mix and mingle and are then stirred with great care over a low flame My mouth waters at the memory of the preparation and day-after-Thanksgiving meal. I had no idea that a traditional Mexican dish served to this white woman from New England could be a catalyst more powerful than a kiss for awakening a sleeping writer!

The instructions for preparing a molé are, of course, not the same as preparing my story. But attention to detail, creating a evocative sense of “this is where I want to bring my reader”, and a willingness to let the ingredients blend and surprise, are for me!

So. Now. What?

Shedding my shoes before the burning bush. A willingness to probe my heart for the bold woman who began the story of her mother and herself with more grit than confidence! Resolving to take my own advice when asked by women who have stories worth telling but haven’t found the pen or pencil to write them down—“dive in!”  

And after the fire? Reaching for the gold coins that lie at the bottom of the well.

You Gave Yourself a Haven Retreat:  So Now What.
by Michele McShane

My first retreat, ever.  I responded to the call of going to Montana for a writer’s retreat last October out of pure serendipity.  Maybe a truer statement is that it was one-hundred-percent pure nagging… by the Universe.

Laura Munson was the guest on Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House Radio show.  The topic was interesting to me, but I needed groceries and headed off to the store.  When I came back, barreling into the house with too many bags, Laura was in the middle of telling the story of how the Haven Retreat started.  I remember what I heard caught my attention, but “life” was demanding that I attend to more of it.  I slammed my MacBook shut.  Work needed to be done.  Something or another.  I wasn’t even to going to continue writing my novel.  Later that evening, I opened my laptop, and unbelievably, Laura’s interview was still running in my cache.  Christiane was saying something along the lines of “You thought there should be a retreat that wasn’t simply about critiquing, but one that allows writer’s space to open up their voices and you did it.”  Even though I liked what I was hearing, I was more than a little annoyed that technology was not letting me off the hook.  Laura’s comments were tough to dismiss.  I don’t remember her particular comments as much as the power in her voice when speaking about writers and the need for space in which their words could simply fill the airwaves and be heard without commentary.  Universe calling or not, I was exhausted, closed the lid, and fell sound asleep.  Son of a bitch, the next morning, I opened the little Pro and, yes, the interview started to play right where it left off.  Now, I may be slow in reading signs, but this was indisputable, full on Las Vegas neon style.  The retreat was not going to be denied, even if I hadn’t even asked the question.   So, now you have some idea about how I roll.  Needless to say, I signed up that day.

The time spent with the group was simply fantastic, extremely valuable and it stoked a million thoughts about what I was doing and what I had thought I should be doing to become a bona fide professional writer.  The questions since then have been more important than any answers I may think I have.  So now what? 

The best part of this “so now what” phase has been that as a result of the Haven Retreat, I have experienced a new sense of what writing actually means to me.  I write because I am alive when I write.  Time is no longer relevant to the equation. Writing puts me in the present, whether real or fictional.  Seeing my imagination morph from an intangible, formless notion into a character with definition, meaning, a life and a family, gives my life dimension and is enough.  It is not so much about “end product” anymore.  The things I write ultimately change the way I think and not vice versa.  The process is the changer.

Since the Haven Retreat, I am happy writing a few paragraphs, thinking of a character’s habit or spending five minutes scribbling down lines in answer to a prompt.  This may not sound earthshattering to you, but it is a lot more than you may think.  I am continually reminded of Nora Ephron’s quote, “The hardest thing about writing is writing.”  It is so true.   These tiny, seemingly insignificant actions are writing.  They contribute tremendously to deepening my writer’s voice.  For me, that is “what” for now.  And, I have Laura Munson to thank for that.

 

 

 

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Haven Winter Series #8

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.50.07 PMHappy Valentine’s Day! This is the eighth post of my winter writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.

The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? 

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

Haven
by Yve Sturman

I’ve always been a little bit strange. I’ll admit it. I was always that kid going the other direction on the school field trip. The kid that was a proverbial thorn in the designated chaperone’s side. If we were in the woods, I’d find my own path. If we were in a museum, I’d wander off alone into exhibits tucked away in dark corners. Back then, I was driven by curiosity and a sense of adventure. Fear was the last thing from my mind. I had this same sense driving down the long winding driveway of Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana in June of 2013. Recapturing that feeling made me grin like an idiot. This was a feeling I lived for, a feeling I loved.

I was there to spend a week writing with eleven strangers and one author of a book that I had picked up in a moment of personal crisis several years prior. In a moment of adventure fueled bravery, I had sent Laura Munson some samples of my sporadic writing. I had kept quiet track of Laura over the years and had read about her Haven writing retreats. They had always been “on my radar”. “Maybe I can do that one day?” I dared to wonder. Now just a few short phone calls and several plane tickets later, I was slowly rolling toward the main ranch house in the steady deluge of a Montana downpour. I was equal parts nervous and excited. “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” I thought.

Those five days spent hold up next to a roaring fire as the Montana rain softly fell outside, were to prove life altering. I rediscovered a voice within myself. My voice.  I was writing with wild abandon and I was doing so amongst the company of eleven other adventurous souls. Every single one of us grew in those five days. We could see it in each other. We grew braver and bolder within each other’s company and we became bonded in a way few will understand. I left Montana much closer to the adventurous spirit I once was.

I may have physically left Walking Lightly Ranch, but I carry Haven with me. I still write freely with wild abandon. I sit with my coffee and my laptop and again wander off into dark corners relishing what I find there. I grow and stretch myself with each keystroke and I have found my voice to the point where I have started to tell my own story in the form of a memoir. It’s a story I needed to tell and it’s proving to be quite a journey. A road paved in healing and light. A road that requires me to be brave and work hard. The “writer’s experience” Laura calls it.

I recently returned to Montana. I spent a few days indulging my inner adventurer. I got lost in Glacier national park and emerged with several new stories to write. I reunited with Laura. We talked about many things but my favorite moment was sitting across from her at a kitchen table. As we chatted, I had a moment of realization. We were talking about what it means to write and the trials and tribulations faced by writers seeking publication. In that moment I realized that my fire for writing now burned hotter than ever. I wanted this challenge. I was once again forging my own path. I had rediscovered myself and I was ready for this journey, wherever it led me.

Right Time
by Betsy Gibson

My Haven Writing Retreat came at just the right time for me, and I was certain that I would take what I’d learned and start to examine my life in exacting detail. I’d figure it all out in writing. I’d become more relaxed, more disciplined and more focused than I’d been in years. And if I got lucky, maybe I’d find something interesting in my voice. Profound, even! Yes!! Maybe I could even become the next “OH, I LOVE HER!!!” writer (notice that I am not so presumptuous as to say “author”). Stranger things have happened.

Well, a year has now come and gone, and I have failed to examine my life. I have figured out nothing—or nothing profound, I should say—and I am not one bit more relaxed, more disciplined or more focused. What happened? After all, I had thought about my Haven Retreat every day for the past year. I was still excited about the prospect of “figuring it all out” through writing. So then, How had I not acted on those thoughts? The thoughts that urged me to write. BEGGED me to write. The thoughts that said, “Come on, just pick up the legal pad and start to write!!”

Something was seriously wrong. I started to wonder how and why I had seemingly just thrown away such a wonderful, life-altering experience. I spent a good deal of time furious with myself for not fulfilling my newest “life assignment” (I view the act of writing daily as an assignment- -as a Total Type A, I love having “assignments” and tend to look forward to working on them and completing them in a way that makes me feel as though I’ve accomplished something positive). At some point, though, I realized that being furious with myself was not the most positive course. So, rather than focusing on how I had wasted an entire year on “not writing”, or on writing things that resembled what I imagined the periodic rants of a very moody teen girl might have looked like, I decided to write something real. Or to try to write, I should say. Yes, maybe that would be my ticket to understanding my dismal failures when it came to my writing life (and my failures when it came to my inability to change from a Type A, always busy, always stressed former NYC lawyer to the completely Zen-like and utterly calm and seeking soul that I had planned to become through my writing). An ironic thought, yes. But maybe it would work.

So I wrote. I started with a lengthy Facebook post. I didn’t mean to, but I just couldn’t stop myself. Yet the post, too, had all of the markings of a teen girl caught in the midst of a rambling barrage of words. It was the worst thing I had ever written, and I (wisely, I think) deleted it soon after I had posted it. Why was I writing like this? What was going on?

When I looked at the Facebook post after its completion (and deletion), I had the answer as to why I had been failing myself in my writing life. And in my “life life”. It was amazing! In my post, I saw a totally overwhelmed woman who was juggling two tremendous life changes at the same time, with other severe stressors lurking in the recesses of her mind. I saw a woman who didn’t “fail” by virtue of not having fully examined her life during the past year, and who didn’t “fail” by not writing (or by not writing like a rational adult would write). No, amazingly enough, I did not see a self who had failed at all!!! I saw a self who simply had not had the time she’d needed to fulfill her goals. Thank God for small favors. It wasn’t “me”, it was the whirlwind of life all around me that had prevented me from proceeding according to schedule.

I realized, for the first time, two things through reading my stream of consciousness, “subject/ verb tense error” filled post. I realized (or was reminded) that I am, first and foremost, human. And therefore, not in the least bit perfect. Not even close. Even more telling, I realized that I am currently, and have been for the past year, fully invested in something much bigger and much more important than myself. The subject matter of my post made it clear to me that I was wrong to bemoan my inability to fulfill my particular goals. Instead, my focus over the past year had been exactly where it should have been: on the people I love and love taking care of. My focus should never have been on myself. Or on any sort of detailed analysis of my life. And I realized, in reading the post, that I hadn’t wanted it to be. That explained it. Instead of working on myself the year after my Haven Retreat, it had been my time to step up my work in the incredibly important job of fully immersing myself in my role as mother, wife, sister, daughter, daughter in law and friend. Other people needed me during that year after Haven. More than ever before. And my focus needed to be on those other people, each of whom I love unconditionally and without hesitation and without whom I would be lost. So right now, thanks to that horribly written, now deleted Facebook post, I understand why I have not been able to reach my (overly lofty) goals. I’m no longer plagued by the daily nagging questions: Why can’t I get it together? Why can’t I get all of my various legal pads together and try to weave my story into something cohesive? It’s because it’s simply just not my time yet. But when my time comes,

I’ll get there. And in the meantime, I have decided that I will write what I can, when I can, where I can. If that writing is akin to a teenager’s (or even a preteen’s!) emotional diary entries, then so be it. If it is akin to a Trust Indenture, so be it. If it’s in the form of a Facebook post or an email to my mother or sisters, well, at least I’m writing SOMETHING. I may be working in the “Haven Lite” mode right now, but at least I now understand why. And my time will come. I know it. And Haven will be with me as I put pen to paper and finally begin my journey. Of that, I am sure.

 

 

 

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Haven Winter Series #7

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PMThis is the seventh post in a series I’m calling I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? Every winter I hand my blog over to other writers for a few weeks to explore a theme.

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

I gave myself the gift of a Haven writing retreat. So now what?
by Jessica Gilkison

I first gave myself the gift of a Haven writing retreat in early 2013, about 18 months after my mom died, six months after my husband’s most recent health crisis, and right smack in the middle of our 12 year-old daughter falling apart. If those things won’t drive you to seek a creative outlet, nothing will.

I’d read about Haven retreats before, but for the first time it spoke to me. To me! It no longer felt like a message just for people who were already writers. Wannabes and newbies welcome. It seemed a bit crazy to travel somewhere in February that was as cold as my home base of Madison, Wisconsin. That didn’t deter me. It also seemed a bit crazy to apply for a writing retreat when I hadn’t really written anything. I was a reader, not a writer. That didn’t deter me, either.

My main goal for that first retreat was to just start writing. I’d been doing the not-writing thing for a long time, and it wasn’t serving me. The thought of writing scared me more than a little, but I was learning that for me, fear is an invitation to pay attention—to see what’s there, what’s lurking underneath. When I’m honest with myself, I know the fear is based on a lie. It’s a way of playing it safe, of not writing. I was ready to stop hiding and start writing.

Haven 1.0 was life-changing. It cracked open the door and showed me the possibilities. It teased me with a taste of the writing life. It was amazing. Haven was also hard. I didn’t know how to write about the things that really mattered and I began to wonder what I was doing there and whether I truly belonged. After a few ugly moments one evening in the privacy of my room, I got over myself, tuned in to the talent and vulnerability unfolding in others around me, and started to get the hang of it. I inhaled as much wisdom and courage from my surroundings and new friends as possible, and brought home a nugget of a writing practice.

As life continued to serve up twists and turns over the next 18 months, I didn’t so much nurture my writing practice as use it to document unfolding events. It was my sacred coping strategy. Then, last summer I came across a book proposal my mom wrote but never sent. Discovering this artifact of my mom’s aborted writing life felt like a message from her, cautioning me not to wait for my own daughter to someday find the proposal for my unfinished book. It wasn’t my mom’s fault that she didn’t get to share her writing more widely. Cancer intercepted her solicitation letter, rejecting her manuscript on behalf of the universe. Yet I had no such current challenge, so what was I waiting for?

I woke up and started paying more attention, ready to take another step toward integrating writing into my daily life. I explored the ways into the stories brewing in me, preparing to spend some time with those entry points to see where they’d lead me. And lead me, they did.

I gave myself the gift of a second Haven retreat this past September. This time I arrived with a better understanding of my need to be real with myself and others, to crack open on the page. Haven 2.0 was different. I was different. I felt open, no longer intimidated by the talent and creativity around me. I was finding my voice and it felt transformational. My spirit buzzed in the way that confirms you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

The final night of this second magical Haven retreat included a talk from Laura in which she shared her wisdom about returning to our regular lives—some tips she’d gathered after shepherding scores of new writers through this transition. I was already aware of the typical post-retreat suggestions. What I wasn’t prepared for was Laura’s caution not to make any big decisions for at least two weeks. Don’t go home and quit your job or divorce your husband or anything like that. We all laughed because who would be silly enough to go on a four-day writing retreat and make such big decisions? Am I right? *gulp*

This is where “so now what?” comes in for me. See, I’d had a moment of total clarity earlier that day. During a group session one woman shared a powerful question she’d been asked: What is life giving, and what will deplete you? I felt my answer immediately. Writing is life giving, and continuing my current work will deplete me.

I decided not to worry about what exactly a writing life would look like for me. I came home and gave notice at work that I’d be leaving at the end of the semester. Instead of fitting writing in around everything else, I needed to make writing my priority, at least during business hours. I wasn’t so much quitting my job, as I was moving toward something else: a writing life.

And here I am, a little over two months later. The semester is over and I’m working on this, my first new piece. This is my “so now what?” I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Yes, My Haven Sisters
By Alicia Buisst 

Yes, my Haven sisters, I AM a writer.  As I sat having dinner with two of my friends last night, one of them said to me, “You have it made.  Your husband has a good job and you don’t work and so you have it made.”  This got my ire up.  “I don’t have a job in the traditional sense, in an office I drive to, but I do work.  I am a writer and – “ She cut me off.  “Yeah, but that’s not a REAL job.”

I sat up like a steel beam in my chair.  We had worked with together for ten years at a bank, and that was about ten years ago.  My other friend, who also worked with us, agreed with the first one, that writing was not a “job” or “profession” like they had.  Turning to me like a mom trying to tell a child that they are still loved in spite of themselves, she rubbed my shoulder in condolence.  It felt like they spilled their diet cokes all over me.  How dare they say that?  Friends?  Some vegetables are not meant to come back in the garden every year.  And these were two of them.

Yes, my Haven sisters I AM a writer.  I defended my craft and myself for almost an hour, speaking quite adeptly, if I do say so.  Steaming from this conversation on my drive home, I realized I had been due for a good metamorphosis for some time.  The cocoon I had woven myself into began to itch back in June of this year on a ranch in the mountains of Montana.  The Haven.  If the struggle to free itself from the cocoon is what creates the butterfly, gives it new life and wings to take flight, then I feel I’m becoming one of prehistoric size.

I’ve been struggling for several months with my writing – but that’s what writing is all about.   It’s the struggle within us and outside of us, between friends and among family, in our past and in our thoughts about our future – our wresting with ourselves in the present.  Those five days at the Haven – days of trepidation detox, listening, writing, expressing, risking, walking between thick trees, laughing among new friends, bonding to the core of ourselves, as writers – were the catalyst to revelation.   All my life, I’ve heard so many women say, “I can’t because”; yet, I’ve seen so many women succeed by telling themselves, “I can and will in spite of.”  I don’t need anyone’s permission to write.  I give myself permission to fulfill my own destiny.

Yes, my Haven sisters.  I AM a writer.  I am writing and I will and publish my book, despite nits and twits and smiling condolences.  I will see my name next to my words and my thoughts:  my authentic voice.  I envision the inside covers of my book, with photos of me and all of you, my Haven sisters, with Laura, and the view looking over the dock and lake that echoed our own voices.   As I wrote on the evening of that summer solstice in Montana:  I write to speak the authenticity of my own voice, to add my own stitch to the fabric of memory.   I AM a writer.

 

 

 

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Haven Winter Series #6

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.51.44 PMEvery winter I do a writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.

The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? 

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

Pendulum
by Sarah Hunter

My little suitcase yawned on the floor waiting to accept my dirty laundry.  I filled it, purposefully folding and placing each soiled garment, hoping that someone would knock on my door and say, “You don’t have to go!  You can stay . . . possibly forever!”  Despite my dawdling, this did not happen and I was borne away from Haven, my haven, in the white rental car of a former stranger who is now one of my tribe.

At Sea-Tac my patient and loving husband pulled up in our silver sport utility.  I threw my little suitcase into the back and jumped into the passenger seat.  He looked at me like someone peeking into a musty box from the attic – is there a big hairy spider in there? Will it jump on my face?

I blurted, “We need to spend more time in Montana.  In fact, months at a time.  I heard God.  I found people who are like me.  It was simply transformative.  It was the best experience of my life, well, except for when we got married and had the kids” I added lamely.  He stared but the corners of his eyes crinkled and his mouth twitched up into a smile.

“Ok,” he played along, “I can work from Montana.  Can we still spend some time in Seattle so I can get into the office now and again?”  He was clearly prepared to humor me for a bit.  “How was it, really?  Transformative is, well, a lot.”

But it was.  It was transformative.  Despite Laura’s admonishments to the contrary, I was ready to sell our house, move to Montana and live in a yurt with nothing but a desk, lamp, pen and paper.  I was ready to become, let me state this as humbly as possible, a great writer.  Not just good – epically magnificent.  I had complete confidence in my competence.  I commenced to prepare to write.  I set up my writing room with my writing desk with my writing lamp, my writing pens, and writing notebooks.  I ordered books on writing and organized a bookshelf for them.  Once the books arrived, I began feverishly reading them, carrying them around like sacred texts.  Interestingly, I did not put pen to paper and write.  I thought a lot about it, read a lot about it, but did not do it.

The afterglow lasted for a long time.  Right up to the point where I became utterly dismayed and desolated at my narcissistic depravity.   Who would want to read anything that I wrote?  I’ll tell you.  Nobody.  Why?  I had nothing moving, inspirational, transcendent or even vaguely interesting to say.  Nothing.  Not only did I have nothing vaguely interesting to say, I couldn’t put it down on paper anyway.  No skills.  None at all.  So, there you had it.  I avoided my writing room with all of its’ writing accoutrements.  I regretted the money I had wasted on my silly escapade.  I was embarrassed that I had made an ass of myself in front of Laura and my Haven tribe by making them read and listen to my schlock.  I almost wore sack cloth and ate ashes but I realized that might have been too much.

In the middle of this self-flagellating nighttime, creeping tendrils of an idea came to me like a clematis climbing a trellis to get closer to the sun.  Hubris and desolation – opposite points on a spectrum, right?  I had occupied both ends rather painfully for myself and for those around me.  What was in the middle?  Eventually I settled into travelling a wide place between the two ends where I am practicing being compassionately myself.  Having dreams, daytime or otherwise, witnessing truths in the world and witnessing truths in me.  Sometimes just making-believe.  And writing all that down.  For my own enjoyment.  Or, just because I have to.  Or, want to.  Because it’s fun and it’s for me.  It’s a practice I get to do, I get to make it a way of life, a vocation, a calling.  It’s what I do and now, thanks to Laura and Haven, I can claim it without reservation.  It is me.  I am a Writer.

I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat, Now What?
by Sharley Bryce

I gave myself the gift of a Haven Retreat. Now what? In the fields of Montana, where the grasses blow softly and the dust settles on the tops of my riding boots, peace abounds. Whether I come there with a troubled heart or a full one, the experience brings me in touch with my true self. There simply is no denying it; and, the “now what?” is: “what a I going to do with me?” Somewhere there are footprints I left, in doubt, and many in faith and love. They are a part of me now. Like the “Now What?” poster of the baby chick hatched out of the egg. I am overwhelmed by all the possibilities for me now. Having touched the hearts and souls of others at the retreat, sharing and caring, it would be, quite simply, a waste to leave that experience behind and not put it to good use for my own future. Inspiration felt or learned must find its place in me and take flight onto the page.

Too late in life we regret things we didn’t do more than things we did do. We think life is what happens to us, but isn’t it also the other way around; we make our life happen out of all the opportunities we encounter and give to ourselves. The hard part is giving ourselves permission to use those opportunities for our own growth and development. It would be so nice to continue to stay at Haven and write as I am moved to do there, in the beauty of Montana, with all the time in the world, in a safe haven. To be true to myself, I must be willing to make time in my individual life. If I am the instrument through which my words are played and my gift of writing is shared, then I must give myself permission to take the time for writing no matter what. Thoughts and ideas can come in the shower, in the dark of night, or driving the car. I am scrambling to get them down on snippets of paper in my purse or running from the bathroom to the kitchen lest the magical words that sweep me away from the mundane to the real are gone. These same magical words on the page hold me in great anticipation of a finished work. I am moving forward from where I once was to where I am now and that is my truth. I dare not ask how far I have come since Haven because I am still pushing through my fear of being adequate enough to choose just the perfect words for the page. It doesn’t matter so much to me who reads these words as it matters that they are written. That is what I am doing with me now.

Often after I have been with a friend and seen their face light up, I have pictured them alone, serious and still. It reminds me that we all are alone and serious and still at times but we can put those times to good use. Haven is a gift I took with me. From time to time I unwrap it to see again what is inside and enjoy its mysteries. There is great freedom in that.

Sitting at a player piano pushing on the pedals and letting the music of those wonderful paper rolls sweep me away was the happiest of past times for me as a teenager. I thought I was a movie star somewhere in a life of fun and romance. It was one of the most comforting and cleansing of my soul things I could do during those years of searching for my true identity. Of course I didn’t compose those songs, yet they were favorites and still have the same effect on me today. Today, writing allows me to go to a place of peace and joy with my own words and “music” and be fully present. It beckons and I picture the sharing of it which I find exciting. The challenge is to move things around and give it a high priority in my life. Perhaps the real answer to “now what?” is figuring out how to doge and fake in the face of all the things that get in the way of writing. Many things are going to happen and, when they do, we say “now what?” as if we expect it and as if it is just one more thing on top of a lot of things. I am going to make it the important thing for me and let the rest happen as it will.

 

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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