Category Archives: My Posts

Haven Winter Series #3

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.17 PMThis is the third post in my winter 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…

I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What?
By Fateme Banishoeib

Haven found me when I was lost as a little kitty cat on a corner in a rainy night. Haven took me home and rescued me from freezing unseen and voiceless. In the warm nest, I found my  whisper, protected by the feminine power of the circle and my heart heated by others’ passion for writing and give voice to their soul.

I was disturbed by the loud voices of brutes with no soul and to save myself I hide. Holding myself waiting for that moment, for that sparkle, that blink, for HAVEN, and finally come to light again. My truth came out in Poetry. I was born in Poetry and Haven gave me the chance to re-born in it again. Poetry was hidden in me, came out as from mother’s womb revealing beauty, life, memories, visions, dreams and medicines for my heart.

After HAVEN copious pages of poetry wrote themselves through my hands. I was given the key to open the magic door of intimate conversation with life. My mind does not know what is happening and led by the heart I conquer my presence in an act of freedom into the path from “good girl” to woman. A woman that does not care to be known or controlled. A woman that is rebelling for independence from what I was told to be and is changing the relationship with my own shadows. A woman emerging into the light of my true self.

In Poetry I am stepping up and coming alive again. Line after line I peel off the layers of hurts and free the real me that the “Dancing Queens” saw and I have been hiding.

The Poetry whispers to my ears that is never too late. It is time for fun, playing with words and their music. I know I always wanted to write and many years later it is what I am doing right now. Convinced by my own limits I kept telling instead that I did not want it. I said it out loud. So the Poetry took a detour and hide in the place I was most scared to go, the shadows. Blinded by my own veils of limitations I realize it now.

The music of Poetry is taking care of the secret garden I had abandoned exactly where I am and wait for the dream to be attracted by the smell of roses. I know it will come. I can smell the roses!

And after the gift of Haven I gave myself the gift of Poetry…this is for you and me.

The Ebb

I cannot see, hear, accept, control

I disappeared in the cold new season

In the darkness the only light is the imagination

I turn on the magical thinking and seek for the unicorns

The masquerade is over

The heart has taken over

I let go of the craving of wanting to know, wanting to be right

From the garden asleep

When the time is right

New life will spring

The sky above knows

Dark and light alternating as night follows day

The darkness is the time to dream big

Expect a miracle

We live in a world of miraculous Poetry

 

I Found My Voice and Lost My Cheese
by Mary Novaria

I left my shoes on the porch and stepped into the lodge feeling like a fraud.

When I arrived at Haven I’d lost confidence in my words and in myself. The past five years had been a morass of caregiving for an aging mother and teenage daughter, both incapacitated by maladies that my words, written or spoken, just couldn’t fix.

Although there’d been scant time and even less energy to write, when I got to Haven, I’d somehow managed to scratch out about 75 rough pages of angst, the meager beginnings of a memoir. A mother, a daughter, a grandmother—two slices of bread (them) and a slab of bologna (me)—assembled into a complicated mess of a sandwich.

Deep down, I didn’t really believe I could do it. Not in the way you have to believe in yourself and trust in your story in order to actually write a book. I was frozen, stuck, unsure of how to dig myself out.

But the ranch is warm. Even when your boots crunch down on the icy dew as you walk from the guesthouse to the lodge. Even with the lake shrouded in a gray mist that obscures the squawking geese. Even as your breath puffs out like exhaled smoke while you stand in awe of the night sky.

I began to thaw in the sanctuary that is Haven. Scribbling in a notebook spotlighted by the streams of afternoon sun the poured through the windows… sharing words and laughter and tears before the crackling fire… soaking up Laura’s kind, loving, emboldening words. There was warmth enough to incubate both a fledgling book and a lost woman as fragile as a chick just hatched.

And there was soup… specifically that simmering, creamy, fragrant carrot coconut concoction—the first of many love offerings to emanate from Emma’s kitchen.

I admit to a twinge of trepidation at the notion of going of vegan, if only for a few days. I could deal with no meat. But no dairy meant no cheese—one of my great comforts in life. Good riddance Gouda. Cheerio Cheddar.  Bye-bye Brie. I was astonished that I didn’t miss it, not even when we had raw tacos.

Two months later my new doctor (a naturopath) took me off dairy, wheat and a few other things to address some longstanding health issues. I began cooking and eating a different way and wrote to Emma for baking advice.

I reminded myself that at Haven I’d wanted for nothing. Not even cheese. And certainly not for companionship and inspiration. I realized that as much as I relish the isolation of the writing life, I do occasionally need the blanket of community to bundle me up and keep me from freezing to death. So I found my way to a monthly writers’ workshop. I’m not much of a joiner, so this was a stretch. But then, so was a life without cheese.

Using my workshop group for accountability, I committed to daily writing, once amassing a streak of 261 straight days. I took a break when the kids came home and felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. I shared chapters in monthly workshops, which kept me moving me forward since there was an expectation to show up with new material each time. I finished a first draft. A second. A third. A major revision.

For more than two years now, I’ve been a wheat-free, dairy-free writer. If I’m fortunate enough to find my way back to Haven, I won’t feel like a fraud when I cross the threshold in my stocking feet and I won’t be pining for Brie.

 

 

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Haven Winter Series #2

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.51.25 PMThis is the second 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. Today, Carol writes about what the future holds after her stroke and Emily writes about writing through grief. 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…

Living the Life We Are Given: CTA- Etiology Unknown
By Carol Wooten

I didn’t choose my life purpose, it chose me. A sudden vice like pain at the right occiput hijacked my attention away from the conversation I was having with friends at a summer patio birthday party. Interesting, their words sounded as if they were coming from a TV in the next room at a cheap motel. If I made a BIG effort I comprehended them. More compelling was the absence of the feeling of knowing we take for granted. Was I was leaning over or sitting upright on the picnic table bench?

“Would you like to go inside? “ asked Pam.  “Yes,” I said. However I couldn’t get my body to follow the intention to stand up. Blessed to be in the presence of nurses, all of whom had been in Vietnam, two came to my side. Each supported an elbow lifting and guiding me up right. OK, standing up. Now what about walking. My left foot felt rooted. It required a nudge from Pam’s toe to prompt it to slide forward. I stepped right, nudged, slid left foot, stepped right. One slow careful step at a time.

To safety – the living room couch. Only it wasn’t safe. I was swamped by forceful dramatic waves of nausea. My friends, some former group members, will think I’m drunk, I mused. I did my best to keep every part of me still even my lidded eyeballs as if I could prevent the waves of upheavals. My friends kept me overnight, thinking it must have been the heat or too much to drink. I was right. They called my husband to tell  him I would spend the night. They brought me to the ER at 6 AM after I toppled to the floor. They saw me try to crawl to the bathroom: my left knee, arm, torso failed to support me or to move. I collapsed on my tummy, felt like a beached whale. I suspected I had had a stroke.

The CT Scan confirmed my intuition: a blood clot blocked a tiny artery in my cerebellum. Blood thinner was given, followed by an extensive diagnostic work up - CVA: Cardio Vascular Accident, etiology unknown. It was 1985. I was 38. Then came rehabilitation.

My attention wandered. I did my best to graduate from Stand Up class, brush my teeth, dress myself in sweats: ADL’s.  Activities of Daily Living filled my day. Exhausted after dinner, but not too tired to swap stories with friendly fellow patients in the “dining room.” Jack’s wife, an attractive well groomed woman, told me she was a figure skating champion and teacher. He worried she would have to take care of him and lose time on time on the ice. He wondered if he’d fly fish next summer. Arnold, an accountant who worked so hard to get his thin body to stand. He failed to graduate from the Stand Up class. He refused to join us in the dining room. I understood why.

Each patient at Saint Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco had a private room. Mounted on the wall at the end of each hospital bed was a TV over which hung a crucifix.  If this were a movie, I’d have changed the channel by now. Who wants to be stuck in a Grade B melodrama? Not me. A Jewish woman from New York City, a former high school history teacher, a new Psychotherapist.  “I” planned to build a thriving practice and a dynamic career in the non profit sector by age 40. Then my husband of six years and I would have our first child. Maybe another or I’d get a PhD. Looking at the crucifix I understood “I” was not in charge.  “I” had to surrender, welcome this thing called stroke.  IT became my teacher. Now, my work is Keeping Hope Alive for other folks with strokes by passing on hard won lessons.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
–Joseph Campbell

Gift of Haven
By Emily Janowsky

Paint with beauty and boldness on the page, Laura’s words echo in my mind as I recall the four days we spent in that serene Montana wilderness, basking in the warmth of a cozy lodge and the nurturing, supportive atmosphere that can develop quickly given the right conditions – in this case, ten diverse but like-minded, creative women and a very skilled and encouraging facilitator.

Show me how big your brave is.  Why is it I somehow hear this exact phrase of the Sarah Bareilles song when scanning through my pre-set radio stations.  You could say it’s just a coincidence.  After all, I’m in the car a lot, shuttling my kids around and doing errands, and the song does still get a lot of airtime even though it’s been more than a year since its release.  But I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.

I don’t believe it was a coincidence that my plans to celebrate my mom’s birthday fell through on the exact day I first saw Laura’s announcement on Facebook that she had limited spaces available for her Haven retreat a short month away.  And of course, that retreat would be held on my mom’s 75th birthday, a milestone to which I’d ascribed a huge amount of meaning, feeling inspired to mark the day in a significant way given she couldn’t do so herself.

Show me how you big your brave is.  I hear my mom’s voice, gentle but strong, and see the love in her face.  She was always there, behind me or beside me, offering words of encouragement and support.  You can do it, Emmaline.  I heard this voice for forty years and it became enmeshed in my psyche.

You got this, I tell myself, trying to fill the void that has existed since my mom’s death three years ago.  I’m learning to give these words the same weight I gave hers, and it hasn’t been an easy process.

“Brave” is a word Laura uses frequently to describe the women who come to Haven.  I have to admit, there were times in the beginning when I didn’t feel brave.  Most of us had come alone, called to retreat for different reasons, whether a major life event or simply a gift to oneself.  We came with our stories, our experiences and perspectives, and a willingness to share them.

Is everyone a writer, even at some level?  We all have stories within us.  What compels some of us to share them on the page?  For me, I’ve always loved hearing others’ stories, have always been drawn to memoirs and biographies over other genres like fantasy, mystery or sci-fi.  The human experience is what interests me, and as I get older, I find myself more willing to share my experience with others.

My mom’s death from cancer three years ago and the ensuing grief have shaped me as significantly as any other major life event.  I know that would surprise many people, but losing her is right up there with becoming a mother myself.  In fact, I’d put those two events at the top of my list in terms of transformative life experiences. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I find my writing focused on grief, loss, healing, life and death.  I was a grief rookie who now considers herself an advocate for the grieving process, with lessons learned that I want to share in the hope of helping others.

Being at Haven was a gift because I left the retreat restored, energized and even more committed to my writing project: Grief, Grit & Grace.  Yes, it takes bravery and courage and discipline to make this project a reality.  But I view it as both the final stage of my grief journey and a way to honor my mom’s life.  I got this.

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Haven Winter Series #1

Every 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? 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…

So now I hand my blog over to the first two writers in this series: Suzanne Brazil and Christie Coombs.

Now What?
By Suzanne Brazil

I woke up the last week of March 2014 and checked Facebook from my phone in bed. My talented, funny sister had started a blog. WTF?! How dare she? The big sister in me was proud but the 48-going-on-49-year-old wannabe writer in me was enraged! I was the writer in this family. At holidays, around the lunchmeat and hardening cheese tray, I got to act fake-modest whenever someone asked “when are you finally going to make us all rich by writing a bestseller?”

When, indeed…

Aside from anger, my overwhelming emotion was fear. Had I wasted all my time, all my talent, all my possibilities? I had been writing on and off my entire life but never believed I could “be” a writer. What could I do about it now? Truth was I wrote a lot of different things when inspiration struck but I finished little and submitted less.

I remembered attending a Romance Writers of America conference years ago. I didn’t write or read romance novels but it was cheap and it was nearby. I didn’t attend as a writer or author. I attended as a voyeur, a writing mouse in the corner waiting for a crumb of inspiration to fall from the plate of a “real writer.”

Something sparkly shimmered around the edges of my memory. I realize it’s the feeling I had being around other writers. I threw back the covers and headed for Google. I searched for classes, conferences, magic fairy writing mothers. Then I searched for retreats and Laura Munson’s website popped up. Her name was familiar. I’d just finished her memoir and the part about relying on forces outside her control for happiness resonated with me. I emailed for more information.

On April 8 Laura sent me a personal email. Eating lunch in my car, I read it and cried. I called my sisters and my best friend and read them the encouraging, loving email from a REAL FREAKIN’ NY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR.

On April 15, David, Montana mountain retreat guru, called and described this magical place where I could figure out if, how, why and what I wanted to write.

Then he casually said “I’ll put Laura on…” Again, WTF?! We talked for 45 minutes. I cried, she consoled. I lamented lost time, she pointed out a path forward. I downplayed accomplishments, she uplifted efforts.

I decided in April to give myself the gift of a Haven Retreat. Now what?

April  – Take a one-night writing class in the city. I’m from the suburbs. I don’t drive to the city.

May  – Take a six-week fiction class in the city. Begin a story via emails to my BFF about my mid-life crisis.

June – I now drive to the city weekly for class. Start a website. Start a blog. Start contributing to other blogs.

July – Finish fiction class. Take another. Write, revise and perform a Live Lit piece in the city.

August – Turn emails into a finished first draft of my first novel.

September – Haven… #Heaven….then home.

October – Helpful Haven Mavens critique a story about my mom. I submit. Attend another class. I’m blogging, guest blogging, publishing book reviews, interviewing published authors.

November – Based partly on Laura’s critiques, begin revision process of novel with confidence. Apply and get accepted to Novel in a Year program.

December – Query, submit and publish guest essay on popular website. Today, receive an email from publisher. Mom story has made it to final selection round for anthology.

Now what? Can you afford not to go?

Now What?
by Christie Coombs

My heart was gaping and yearned for distraction.

The hole that was torn wide open with Jeff’s death on September 11, 2001 had healed somewhat with time.  It’s true that my heart will never be completely healed.  I still feel the loss of my husband every day, but I’ve learned to live without his physical presence in my life, not because I wanted to but because I had to.

And I learned to let someone else in — even though it took me nearly 8 years.  I discovered love again.  It was a different kind of love that I felt for Jeff, but it was definitely real love.  I don’t believe love can ever feel the same anyway.  The man I was seeing seemed to understand the trauma I felt losing Jeff in such a surreal tragedy, and that made him special to me in his own rite.

Then in August, 2012, after being together for 3+ years, the man I loved, trusted and felt safe with, ended “us,” leaving my heart wide open once more. The words ‘I can’t do this anymore’  rang through my head like a broken record stuck on the most ear-piercing verse. There I was, left reeling. Alone. Feeling completely empty again.  But I would persevere, because I had to, and this time, because I wanted to.  (Somehow we’ve even managed to maintain a friendship of sorts, even two years after the breakup.)

I was determined to be ok.  I had survived worse – much worse.

So with my “month from hell” upon me — the anniversary of 9/11, my birthday and Jeff’s birthday, all within a week, our anniversary a few weeks later, and facing the empty nest with my youngest having gone away to college – I plunged back into life. I decided to do things for ME, that would make me feel ok with not being part of a couple.  I did it for 8 years, and I thrived.  I could do it again.  To help get there, I searched for an adventure.

I heard about Haven retreats from a facebook friend. I had always wanted to go to Montana, and I needed something to re-invigorate my writing.   So I took a huge leap of faith, jumped out of my comfort zone without looking back, and booked a Haven retreat.

My flight left Boston on Jeff’s birthday – September 18. Mid flight of the first leg I realized that I booked my car out of one airport, while I was landing at another. Ooops.   After some begging to the rental agent on the layover, I was able to fix that snafu. While checking in, I noticed my license had expired … 3 days prior, on my birthday. I prayed the agent wouldn’t notice. I think he did, but opted not to pay attention to it since he knew I was in a bind already trying to get a car. My little travel mess-up meant that I would drive two hours to Whitefish, but I was fine with that. I wanted to see Montana, not just go there. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, stopping on the way to take pictures and soak up the stunning Montana scenery.

Walking Lightly, where Haven is based, was amazing. I was greeted by David, a truly kind soul who walked me upstairs, and told me to choose my room. The decision was easy – I chose the room with a picture window over-looking the small lake. Haven had just become my Heaven. Any nerves I had were gone. I felt my burdens lift. Meeting the wonderful women I was spending the next four days with confirmed that this was just the distraction I needed. Over the course of that time, we wrote from the heart, pouring out the details of our lives that defined us, tormented us, amused us and excited us, with Laura Munson, our writing mentor, at the helm. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more, we encouraged each other and we constructively critiqued each other’s written word.  We became friends – Walking Lightly Sisters in Writing friends.

Since then I’ve gone on another Haven retreat, this one in Los Cabos, Mexico. It was very different from Montana, but the women, fellow Cabo Wordshakers, were equally inspiring, as was Laura, and the environment. I came home with more new friends and a renewed appreciation for my own writing.

Through Haven, I gave myself the best gift ever, one that I knew I truly deserved – the gift of self-recognition, acknowledgement, and time for myself.  And in return, Haven gave me confidence in my writing, and courage to face, rather than run from, that which we can’t control.

 

 

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Haven Winter Writing Series

WinterWell, it’s time for the annual Haven Winter Writing Series again, and this year we have a theme that I hope will inspire you to do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but haven’t quite had the guts or permission or stamina or time or money or support or inspiration or did I say guts, to give yourself. I know all about it. Every time I start a book, never mind an essay or a magazine article, or heck, even this blog post, my inner critic puts on boxing gloves and starts to swing: “Who do you think you are?” “You’re not good enough to pull this off.” “No one asked you to do this.” “People will judge you.” “This is what OTHER people do, not you.” “Go on Facebook and see what the COOL people are up to. You belong at the other table- the one with the theater geeks and the people who missed the memo on hygiene maintenance.” “Have you looked at yourself lately? You need to join the gym!” (not sure what that last one has to do with writing, but somehow it always sneaks its way in…) But for some reason, I keep writing things. Always have. Call it an obsession. Call it an addiction. Call it just plain stupid. I’ve just learned not to listen. I’ve learned to put that chatter in a box that is not quite cast off to sea, but nowhere close to my writing desk. I hope that someday I will once and for all give it a proper water burial. One step at a time. 

You can bet that voice was loud when I started leading writing retreats– all of that mean inner chatter about supposed-to-be and not-enough. Well for some reason I did it anyway. And now over 300 people have come to Haven and have had major breakthroughs in finding their unique voice through the transformative power of writing. AND Haven was ranked in the top five writing retreats in the US!  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven. Just a seeker.

ForwardThis 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?

We’ll be postings these essays written by Haven alums who will share their story twice a week through February, in hopes that you will take a brave stand for whatever it is that you dream about doing for yourself. If it’s a Haven retreat that you pine for, here is our 2015 schedule. I’d love to tell you more about the experience.

Here’s to a wondrous 2015! And may you grant yourself your wildest dreams!

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!

Please enjoy this poem by Josina Manu Maltzman, which was inspired by my one day Haven Workshop at The Loft in Minneapolis this December. The prompt was: Why is Writing Dangerous? I chose this prompt because anything worth diving into head-first is a little, if not a lot, dangerous. That’s what makes it powerful. Consider your dreams, how you deem them “dangerous,” and choose to tell yourself a new story. Making them come true just might change your life! I am living proof of that.

Yrs.
Laura

In honor of the writers killed in Paris this week

Writing is Dangerous

by Josina Manu Maltzman

Writing
is the space between cells that holds memories
atoms of information
the part of me that blends with you
the in-between that creates
the line
but also blurs it.

It is terrifying to write,
never knowing what may happen.
Words create worlds and we must follow them pulled to discover
what lies there.

Writing is both safe and safecracker
code breaker
myth weaver.

When you think you are alone but the words tell you:
You are not.

Writing is salve and salvation.
We need the words to heal,
mending collective trauma
where our humanity has been torn and ailed
for generations.

Trees need soil.
We need art.
There must be packed art around our roots
to push against
spread within
hold the water to us
and rest there,
waiting for us to sip and be nourished.

Writing is dangerous where there is power-over,
suffering-under.
It is dangerous to write truth into a scene that is otherwise void of it.

Writing is dangerous
the way jazz is dangerous.
The way meeting in town squares
under the watchful gaze
of the master
is dangerous.

Even if (because)
it looks like revelry.

Writing is forbidden sex and Love
re-imagined.

It is barriers destroyed and prison bars disappeared.

The undead coming alive
their voices rising together.

Words are
the testament of where we came from
proof of our pasts
claiming our futures.
On the page history
is told with our own words,
our lives
at once
have value.

Writing dangerously feeds hunger
when we are supposed to be starving.
Edwidge Danticat says,
“Create dangerously,
for people who read dangerously.”
Because some people
are killed for their words
and to read them
is also
sure death.

Some stories must be shared by candlelight,
behind drawn shades,
because the truth of what is said
is dangerous
to power.

Writing must be dangerous.
How else do we reflect
truly
on the world we live in?
We must get dirty
fearlessly uncovering.

What is it to desire un-dangerous writing?

To write safely is Wednesday Night Sitcom
Disneyworld bench
sandbox playground.

We write dangerous
because our world is dangerous.
And as we chronicle our surroundings
we shatter glass ceilings
shards falling like pointed daggers
exposing an endless sky.

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Re-defining Family at Holiday Time

IMG_0007 (2)My friend and fellow seeker/Huffington Post Blogger Marina Illich and I like to untangle the hard stuff.  We call it Five Minute Manna.  This is what has our hearts and minds activated this holiday season:  Re-defining Family

Find Your People by Marina Illich

Holiday time is family time. But what exactly do we mean by family?  So many people live three times zones – or an ocean – away from their parents and siblings, turning travel “home” into a costly or time-sucking ordeal. Then there are the divorced parents left to create “family” plans on their own, while the kids spend their holidays with the ex. And elders? So many of them are repaired to an assisted living home far away, making it virtually impossible to get back to the ranch. 

Meanwhile, those who do get back to the ranch often wonder why they traveled the distance. We all know the uncanny way that holidays resurface old resentments, reactivate buried fault lines, and turn festivities of cheer into an endurance test of patience and poise.  Inside the dim welcome, one can almost hear singer/songwriter Damien Rice crooning those signature lines –  “Why do you sing hallelujah, if it means nothing to you? Why do you sing with me at all?”

Too many of us suffer enough from the predations of modernity – the divorces, job losses and job insecurity. The kids’ over scheduled lives and “underperforming” scores. The long commutes and dusty dreams. The loss of friendship and the loss of self. We don’t need the added pressure of enduring the holidays.

 So what’s the alternative? I suggest it’s time to update our idea of family. Let’s dispense with the imperatives to feel whole and happy inside a story of “family” that leaves us frail or frazzled. Let’s dislodge our commitments to stoicism and endurance that leave us walled inside towers of loneliness. And let’s disband our loyalty to conflicting demands that run us ragged when what we simply want is…to be received exactly as we are. 

Instead, let’s find our people. Let’s find those like-minded individuals who turn up in odd corners of our lives, who share some or none of our biography, who perhaps celebrate with fish when we celebrate with ham, or intone silent prayers when we devote ourselves to tracking the market or reading the Times. People who – for whatever logical or improbable reason – see, hear and feel our pulse with the gravity and gratitude that has us know we are at home. Let’s find those people and make those peoplethe family we arrive to in our stillness and frenzy, our hope and harry. And let’s make the gathering of that familythe ritual we behold – at whatever time of the year – to signal the holidays are here.

Let’s make thatfamily – geographically dispersed and culturally-spackled though it may be – the home inside which we eschew all the should’s and must’s we internalized along the way so that we can discover what we really are all about.

And let’s do all of this precisely so that when we do go back to our family with its far-flung network of third cousins, step-sisters, and in-laws, we behold them, once and for all – without indictment – exactly as they are.

Then, perhaps, we will find that whatever the season and whatever our destination, we are surrounded always and only by family – those relatives, friends, mentors, students, strangers and perhaps even adversaries – whom we recognize long, like us, for one simple thing: to be held and welcomed into our home exactly as they are.

 IMG_0002 (2)

A Family of One  by Laura Munson

It’s the holidays, and no matter what’s in that wisdom quiver of ours…things are likely fraught.  Why is that?  Well, once-upon-a-time, we believed in something that someone told us, or preached to us, or wrote about, or filmed about, or photographed… on the meaning of family.  And we bought it.  And there’s a good chance that “family” looks very different to us now.  There’s an even better chance, that with that difference, we find pain, disappointment, and even shame.  Especially during the holiday season.

I come from a long line of documentarians.  My mother lovingly made photo albums and home-movies, featuring every first day of school, play, dance, graduation, in addition to the annual Christmas card—all of us posed just-so, sent out to hundreds of people as proof that we were a family.  A solid family.  I loved all of it, especially our Christmas card, gazing at the ones we received from other families—a community, of sorts, to tout and hold dear.  It gave me an intense sense of belonging. 

So, as an adult, I took the photo-album-video-Christmas-card-baton, and raced to the finish every year with a family Best of book.  If the house was burning down, that’s what I would take—the Best of books.

It takes me hours to make these books, reveling in what we’ve created in the last year.  Making sure I have that perfect photo of every baseball and soccer game, every award ceremony and orchestra concert, every pinnacle moment, as, yes, proof of my amazing family, but also as proof of my motherhood.  And on Christmas morning, I love sitting with my family and flipping through its pages, ooing and ahhing over the past year’s achievements, high points, adventures, folly.

A few years ago, my family-of-four turned into a family-of-three.  My husband and I needed to end our marriage.  It was sad and shocking and deeply disorienting.  People told me that we were “still a family—just different.  A modern family.”  But I didn’t sign up for a “modern family.”  I signed up for a family with a mother and father as a united force.  It rocked me to the core.

I’m often asked if we’re okay, especially if the kids are okay.  I’m not sure what okay means.  We’re still feeling joy, inspiration, pride.  We’re still on adventures.  We’re still having pinnacle photo-worthy moments.  But during the holidays, in these post-divorce years, it’s all so difficult.  My gut says, Go slowly, keep it gentle, tuck in with your little family-of-three.  Time to re-boot your whole orientation of family.  So:  No Christmas card.  No Christmas party with the half-mile of luminaria and the carols around the piano.  And no Best of book.  Instead, I’ve focused on creating magic with my children, cozy around the fire, playing games, eating soup, pressure off.  This is living time, not documenting time.

But on those dreaded days when I can’t actively practice my motherhood, or “family-hood”—when my children are with their father and not in the other room, and I am alone….my productive (Best of) mind kicks in, almost breathless:  Go to a soup kitchen, visit a nursing home, find friends who are alone too– create a new tribe of “family.”  That’s usually the way I fly—carry on, hope-springs-eternal.  But for now, I’m listening to my gut instead, because I know that my new concept of family needs to find itself out of flow, not fear…and the truth is:  I’m very very afraid of who I am alone.  I can reason my way around this with great aplomb, but reason doesn’t help.  If I am going to move forward in a truly authentic way, I need to find refuge in myself.  And those alone Christmas moments are a good place to cut my teeth.

My gut says, Become your own family. Learn to take joy in the things your hands touch and deem holy, even if there’s no one there to witness it.  Smell the paper-whites in the window and have it be enough that it’s for your nose only.  Light the expensive candle and feel grateful for the way it focuses your gaze, fills the room with the scent of amber.  Put on special clothes and don’t care if you’re photographed in them or witnessed at all.  I trust my gut.  I have to find the light in my own eyes, alone.  I have to believe, once and for all, that I am okay, alone.  It all begins there.  And perhaps ends there too. 

So tonight, alone, in a cashmere robe, candle lit, I created a Best of book of these post-divorce years.  And something magical and Christmas-kissed happened.  Scrolling through my files of photos, I didn’t look for achievements and winning moments.  I looked for light in my children’s eyes, and mine too.  I looked for sacred.  If I saw it in a baseball championship or an Honor’s Society handshake, then I chose that photo.  But only if there was light in those eyes I love so much.  Including my own. 

Which means that as we leaf through this book Christmas morning, on top of all of my children’s radiant moments, there will be photos of me leading my Haven Writing Retreats, riding my horse, growing a life that is outside of the family I’ve fostered, and perhaps…in-so-doing, finding new “family.”  Maybe we can’t really move on…until I do.  Alone.  Maybe the definition of family is really a radical acceptance of self.  And once we accept that, both my mind and my gut tell me, we will find our family community thriving, even if it looks entirely different than we ever thought it would.

 candle

Marina Illich, Ph.D. is a Bay Area-based executive coach and leadership consultant and the co-founder and principal at Broad Ventures Leadership.  With a doctorate in Buddhist Studies, she  spent five years in Asia studying Tibetan Buddhist practices for developing self-awareness, focus and resilience. She was recently appointed to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls by Gov. Jerry Brown. Marina can be contacted at: marina.illich@gmail.com

Laura Munson is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of the critically acclaimed Haven Writing retreats.  She lives in Montana with her family of three (and one!).

 

 

 

 

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Haven Gravy Giveaway!

Thank you to all who participated in my Haven Gravy Giveaway! We had some very interesting submissions, all in response to the challenge: why do you want my fabulous turkey gravy recipe? The prize? (aside from the recipe, of course) is a discount to a 2015 Haven Retreat in Montana. I’m pleased to announce the winter: Laura Probert from Bethesda, MD who responded with a 500 word poem about why she doesn’t necessarily want my gravy recipe as much as she wants to come to Haven! She gets both! You can learn more about her great work as a physical therapist and coach here: Bodyworks. And find her here too!


My next Haven Retreat will be February 25-March 1.  There’s still room but it’s booking fast! Give yourself the gift of creativity, voice, self-expression, community, support and inspiration!  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker.  Gravy not included.

Now for the secret revealed!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener…mmmm. GOLD!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

2 Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

    • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

    • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
    • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
    • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
    • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
    • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
    • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...

Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

      • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
      • Add the neck and other organs—brown
      • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
      • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
      • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
        Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...

        Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

        day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.

      • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

      • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
      • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
      • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
      • Strain the giblet stock.
      • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
      • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
      • Cook down for a few minutes.
      • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!

And here…it…is!

Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!

Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones!

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What I Learned on Career Day…

career
as featured in Huffington Post 50

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel of professionals for Career Day at a local therapeutic prep school in the Montana woods. I had no idea what to expect. I went to a prep school, but not a “therapeutic” one. I went to one that was all about having big answers to the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you- grow-up” question. As a dreamy, driven teen, it was a challenge that both daunted and inspired me throughout my high school career. My dreams were always out-of-the-box — an artist of some sort — an actress, maybe a film-maker … but luckily I was someone who figured out how to be comfortably in-the-box, keeping my out-of-the-box thoughts mostly to myself. So I wrote a lot. That practice turned into an obsession which turned into a craft which turned into a career. That was the goal for this Career Day: panelists were supposed to tell our stories — talk about the arc of our careers, then and now. But we weren’t talking to in-the-box kids. It turned out, we were talking, quite frankly, to our interior adolescent selves.

Given the nature of the students at this school, I knew that my story had to be as transparent and true as possible. These weren’t kids who dance to any level of BS. They’ve been through hard stuff and they don’t want the Kool-Aid. They want the raw, the real, the impossible possible.

I practiced my 15-minute presentation in the car as I drove further and further into the woods. I speak and lead retreats about the power of using my profession (writing) as a therapeutic tool, so I figured I had this one in the bag. All I needed to add to my well-developed story was the part about how I discovered that creative self-expression on the page is an excellent way to process life, and how I’ve learned to practice this every day, against the odds. How it sustains me personally, and now financially. Lesson: find out what you love and do it with all your heart, no matter what, and eventually you will succeed, whatever that means to you. I’m living proof. Easy.

The first panelist to present was a prosecuting attorney. I prepared for a serious talk from a serious person. Instead, he talked about wandering. Living in Hawaii. Surfing. Snow-boarding. Bartending. Being misunderstood. Feeling like a loser. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. And finding his way eventually to a profession that meets his needs. The second panelist was a successful web-developer with prominent clients all over the world. In his presentation, he talked about wandering. Living in New Zealand. Surfing. Skiing. Bartending. Turning down corporate America for mountain living. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. Inventing things. When it was my turn, I found myself telling a very similar story, mostly the wanting-something-different component. Oh, and I bartended too. And wandered. And worried my parents.

We had three rotations of students who listened to our presentations, all with interesting questions, and a modicum of blank stares. These kids were listening. And we on the panel were listening to each other … three times. It’s one thing to wow a crowd with your best one-liners, cutting honesty, and slightly irreverent stories. But looking into the eyes of these kids who’ve travelled miles of hard road, there was zero room for schtick. I pride myself on heart language. Turning heart language into schtick is a depressing trajectory, but truth-be-told, it’s happened to me along the way, likely out of a self-preservation that grows from being constantly on the road, sharing your message. Given this Career Day format, there was no way it was happening here. Quite probably because of this fact, what I saw in myself and my co-panelists (we supposed “experts”) was a fountain of truth.

The first time around, we gave blow-by-blow plays on the journey of our careers. Fascinating details. Twists and turns. Yellow brick road of success with pitfalls you only admit when you’ve found your way to Oz. The second time, we three offered more — personal stuff, odd vignettes that ended up inspiring major life choices right down to a conversation on a plane and a pair of flip-flops. But before the third group of students came into the classroom, one panelist admitted, “I’ve been telling it wrong.” His eyes lit up and he offered to go first. He spoke about inventing things — got deep into what made him want to invent things and why. Which begat a confessional from the other panelist about how he didn’t always love his profession, but how he has learned to live by his principles, moment by moment. And when it was my turn, I got ready to tell my usual story — about wanting to follow my passion with all my might, even if it left me poor and unpopular … but instead, this voice escaped like it was pulling free from very old shackles:

“I wanted to be famous. Really famous. Meryl Streep famous. I was jealous of Julia Roberts. I wanted that career. I was jealous of the literary brat pack from the 80s. I wanted those careers. Desperately. But the voices inside my head were so loud: you’re not good enough, your dreams will never come true, who do you think you are to have those lofty dreams, you’re a show off, you’re self-centered, you’re not talented, you’re an embarrassment to your family, you’re a failure.” My heart pounded and my face heated, but I continued. “I’ve let my inner critic run me. Until very recently. Even though I give speeches and lead writing retreats about how to become aware of that voice and shed it, I’ve still allowed my inner critic to hold court. I don’t want that for you all.” And then privately, a very new thought brought me to my proverbial knees. And I added, “I never realized until this moment … that I’ve allowed her to be much freer than I am. She lives out-of-the-box. I’m the one still somehow in-the-box because she tells me the story, and I dance. I don’t want a story. I want to be rid of stories and just be.”

I looked at those kids and I realized: that’s what they wanted — to be free of their story. Of their pain, their pressure, their past. To free themselves of boxes altogether. And yes, to have permission to wander. And worry their parents.

I ended up staying for lunch. I sat with the students and answered more questions but mostly I listened to them. I commended them for being different and admitting it and wanting to understand themselves, truthfully. I commended them for being honest and outed for exactly where they are in their evolution. “Most of the stories we tell ourselves are myths,” I told them. “If there’s one thing to live by, it’s that. Find your truth, no matter how inconvenient, and live into it. And for what it’s worth, the “experts” are really grown-up high school kids, scared, just like you.”

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Write (and Live) from the Inside Out

take-aways

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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You Are Arriving

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

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

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

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

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

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

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

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

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

– by David Whyte

 

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What to keep. What to give away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Bill’s blog post:

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

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

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

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

 

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