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My Friend the Poet– Christine Johnson-Duell

CMJDNow Booking for my Fall Haven Writing Retreats!

September 10-14 (one spot left)
September 24-28 (one spot left)
October 8-12 (almost full)
October 22-26 (almost full)

Contact Laura:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I read a lot of poetry.  I think it’s because I don’t write poetry, so there is absolutely no inner critic clamoring around in my head saying “why can’t you do THIS?!”  Instead, I’m usually just in a place of awe.  Poetry shows me that every word needs to count.  It shows me the music of the written word.  The musical bones.  I used to be intimidated by poetry, thinking I needed to know all my Greek gods and a little Latin, and probably be a bit better travelled to understand it.  But that’s not true.  I’ve learned that poetry is a feel thing.  It’s a sculpture of words, images, and meaning, and in my opinion, a good poem shouldn’t feel “hard.”  And if it does, check in a bit deeper– you probably understand it more than you think, in more of an intuitive way.  So what you don’t know what the word Bard means?

I start each day with poetry.   It breaks things down and sets me on a more pure course than reading a book on writing, or longer form prose.  And at my Haven writing retreats, we work with poems to help us see the glory in simple nouns.  The Big Lesson becomes small, and the small moments become the song.  I love this about poetry.

What seems like a long time ago now, twenty-five years or so, I was buying an espresso in Seattle where I lived at the time.  I was talking with the café owner about the book I was writing, and he said, “You ought to meet my niece.  She’s a poet.”  Immediate intimidation.  But within minutes of meeting Christine Johnson-Duell, I knew I had a sister in words.  We were in a writing group together for five years and she continues to support and inspire me by being exactly who she is:  in love with words and all heart.  She’s also a smarty-pants…but don’t let that intimidate you.  Oh, and she makes a mean pasta sauce.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is called, Recipe for Sicilian Sauce in America.  Her quote (and she’s being humble):  “The sauce is really just called Red Sauce. It’s not exotic, but it’s what everyone in my family gravitates to when we need comfort. It must have three kinds of meat (sausage counts, even if you’re already using pork; ditto meatballs, even if you’re already using beef) and it requires cooking on a Saturday afternoon so it can simmer slowly. The poem is really about what comes before the sauce, what the sauce represents; its roots (my favorite thing, really, to consider: roots).”

I’m proud to feature her here at Haven.  She has a poetry chapbook coming out called Italian Lessons, and I hope that you will pre-order it now (it debuts in September) and look forward to enjoying every word!  Even the ones you don’t understand.  Look for what lives in-between then.  You will find my friend there holding your hand.  And if you’re lucky, feeding you pasta!  yrs.  Laura

Your poetry collection is a chapbook. What exactly IS a chapbook?

Historically, a chapbook was a booklet that addressed a single topic. In recent years, it’s come to mean a short collection of poems, as short at 15 pages or as long as 40, that has a theme or arc that connects the poems. In the past few years, though, prose has been making a comeback in chapbooks. I like chapbooks for the distilled thinking they offer.

Your chapbook is called “Italian Lessons.”  Why did you choose that title? Is it about learning Italian?

It took me some time to get to the title. It’s not about learning to speak Italian—which I can do, though I am rusty!—though I think there are lessons in it.

My mother’s family is Sicilian and I studied Italian in college and in Italy. My Italian heritage and education have always made appearances in my work—because it’s what I know and love.I realized that there’s a lot of Italian and Italian culture in my work.  Once the poems were assembled, it turned out the collection was a perfect chapbook length and—more importantly—made sense. I studied Italian in college because I wanted to know more about my heritage. Italian Lessons just came to me—I like the double entendre: the literal roots of my ability to speak Italian and the roots of my personal culture—and my writing life, really.

Your writing? Aside from your family, how is Italy at the root of your writing life?

I went on a month-long study tour in Italy in college, to study il rinascimento—the Italian Renaissance—and Italian language. There were twelve of us, nine students and three professors, one of whom was the niece of Italian artist Modigliani! It was a dream trip; we spent a week in Rome, studying Classical Antiquity, two weeks in Florence, with the High Renaissance, and then back to Rome for the unwinding of Renaissance into the Baroque.

So much of what I learned on that trip has stayed with me. At the end of it, the professors asked me to write an article about the tour for the college’s alumnae magazine. It was my first publication—about Italy! So, even the roots of my writing are in Italy!

Can we find any parts of that study group in “Italian Lessons”?

Yes. It’s in many poems. My cousin Fred, who is in the book, was also traveling in Italy the same summer I was there and we met in Rome. Fred and I were two halves of a wonderful whole—and we figured that out in Rome. We’d known each other a little, growing up, but it was during that summer that we connected. When I started writing poetry, I sent all my poems to Fred first.

Was the study group the only time you went to Italy?

Oh, no. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon and then we went back with my family about ten years ago, to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. There are pieces of both of those trips in the book. But, there’s also Isabella Stewart Gardner, Mozart and his librettist, DaPonte, and my daughter.

Isabella Stewart Gardner? How did she get in there? Did you visit Venice?

No. Curiously, in three trips to Italy, I have never been to Venice. I grew up in a suburb of Boston and discovered the Gardner Museum when I was a teenager. The Gardner was unlike anything I had seen or experienced. I think it primed me for the study tour in Italy—possibly it prepared me for the life I have, as an artist. At the risk of portraying things as tidier than they actually are, I might even say that Italian Lessons is like my own Gardner Museum—things that might not seem to go together are next to each other—and it works.

Well, then, let’s diverge to something different. On your blog, yellowwallpaperwriters.com, you recently wrote something like an obituary for Seamus Heaney—in it you say he was part of your childhood.

Yes. He had a cameo appearance in my early life.

What do you mean, a cameo appearance?

Heaney—and other Irish writers and musicians—spent time at a home in my neighborhood that was owned by people who were early—and probably major—supporters of Ploughshares Magazine, which was, I think, among the first US publications that took Heaney’s work. He often visited but it wasn’t until I was in graduate school in the early 1990s that I really understood who he was. I love his work and I can say, honestly, I respect the man.

So he didn’t have a hand in your training as a writer?

No, no. His host, Ann Graham, was probably my first teacher. She and her husband were from Scotland and Ireland, respectively. They went to Glasgow and Dublin every summer and returned with books we couldn’t get here, which she lent to me regularly. I think she knew I would be a writer long before I did.

Well, we have strayed far from Italy!

Yes, but not from the lessons!

What do you mean?

Italy and things Italian have informed my life—so far, anyway! Italian culture and my Sicilian family have been touchstones for me—I even married another Italian American! And in my life there have been so many lessons, derived directly or indirectly from Italian.

Thanks for chatting with me about your book! It’s available for preordering, correct?

Yes, anyone can reserve a copy from Finishing Line Press. It will ship on September 20, 2014!

Praise for Italian Lessons:

 n Christine Johnson-Duell’s deft hands, Italian Lessons don’t just teach us how to speak. They teach us how to sing, how to go. These poems are hungry but patient, curious and wise, like travelers anticipating well-earned meals that will further confirm what they learned on their journeys: to have a body is to discover the ways one becomes a figure of joy, a keeper of memory, a vessel of sorrow, an instrument of art.

Kate Lebo, A Commonplace Book of Pie

 In this debut collection, Italy, art, and tomatoes combine to create a luminous meal of memory. From Sicily to Boston, childbirth to Mozart, the poet turns her trenchant eye “to pray to primary colors and their offspring.” As we travel by train,  across a life, readers listen in: “I want to lean out / of this tight frame” and in these well-crafted lyric poems, Christine Johnson-Duell achieves just this; the music of these words live on in this reader’s mind well beyond the page.

Susan Rich, Cloud Pharmacy and others

 Christine Johnson-Duell’s first collection ricochets, if one can use that verb with such understated work, between Italy and America. These poems attend to the refractions of language and art, but are firmly rooted in family and friendship. And at their best, they unflinchingly lean out over the rails of love and loss, between what was and and what will be.

- Sean Bentley, Fine Madness magazine

 

 

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Walden– 2014-style.

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

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

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

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

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

Laura’s Walden 2014 IMG_0014

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

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My Garden Grows

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

tasha_2

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

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

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

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

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

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


Honeysuckle: May you rest in peace…
honey
We bedeck you with crystals from my childhood lamp.
009

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Commencement: A Mother’s Guide to the Extra Stuff

cap tossas seen on mamalode.com

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

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

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

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

“I need room for my stuff.”

“What stuff?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stamps? Like postage stamps?”

“Yeah.” This from a 4.0 student.

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

“My generation doesn’t really use them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bedroom:

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

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

Office:

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

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

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

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

graduation_cap

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My Happily Ever After: what I’ve learned from writing something that a lot of people read.

author_photos_heath 008You never really know where life will lead you, but if you live with pure intention and feed what you love with all your might, consistently and honestly…you might find yourself in places you’d never dreamed you’d go. 

That happened to me in 2009 when I published the essay version of a memoir I’d written in the New York Times Modern Love column.  The entry point was a marital crisis, but the book and the essay were not really about marriage.  They were about being responsible for your own well-being no matter what’s going on in your life.  They were about focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest.  And they were about powerfully choosing to not play emotional victim to the things that others say and do to you.

The book (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is) became a New York Times and international best-seller, and that essay went viral.  Today, five years later, the essay is having a resurgence all over the internet and in The Week magazine where thousands of people have made comments, and over 200,000 people have shared it.  That number is increasing by thousands every hour.  (At this moment of writing, it’s at 214K.  When I finish this post, if it is going the direction it’s been going, we could be at 22K, and I write fast!)  It has been the top read article for days on The Week, sparking blog posts and ribald conversation on social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter and beyond. 

Normally, I don’t follow this sort of stuff.  I’m a writer and a mother and those things take up most of my time.  I’ve learned that media often manipulates the meaning of my message and unfortunately a lot of the press I’ve gotten spins my essay/book to make it about how a woman saves her marriage.  But it’s not about that.  It’s about saving yourself.  Turns out, people aren’t easily open to that message.  People are used to playing emotional victim, and society re-enforces that.  I see things another way, and when you offer new solutions, people oftentimes not only don’t want to hear them, they go on attack mode.  I don’t have much room for that.  I wrote that essay and that book to help myself process a difficult time in my life, and I wrote it to help others do the same.  It has helped people all over the world and when I wonder whatever possessed me to be the main character in a book (I normally write fiction), I take heart in the knowledge that I have been true to my author’s statement:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.  If I have helped one person out there, then it’s all worth it.  And I’ve heard from thousands of people who tell me my writing has done just that. 

I walked a line of integrity throughout the whole experience of book promotion, not exposing my family outside of their comfort zone, not naming names, and turning down major media when my gut told me that it wasn’t right.  And I mean MAJOR media.  My message never has been about staying in a relationship.  It’s about taking care of yourself and stepping outside of emotional suffering to do so.  Moment by moment.  Thought by thought.  Breath by breath.  Stepping into the most powerful question I know and that’s:  What can I create?  You don’t have to suffer, even under fierce rejection.  Even when your spouse says, “I don’t love you anymore.”  I’m here to tell you—this is the exact time to find the greatest emotional freedom of your life!  You don’t have to take that personally!  Nor do you have to take “You’re fired” personally.  Or “You’re a jerk” or “You didn’t win the prize.”  These are just words.  I’m not always good at it, but it’s a practice I’m dedicated to because it works.  It’s truth.  I own what there is to own, set boundaries for myself, and mind my own business.  It’s actually easy once we gain the self-awareness that it’s possible to choose our own happiness no matter what’s going on in our lives.  And that usually begins with getting in touch with our own self-talk.  Most of us speak to ourselves ten times worse than we’d speak to our enemies!

That’s new news to a lot of people and so now I find myself in the Wellness realm, speaking about the subject of non-suffering through self-awareness and creative self-expression at conferences and at my Haven Retreats, and I’m happily working on three books that have nothing to do with marriage.  I have moved on from that time in my life, and while the end of the essay and the book leave my marriage in a place of healing, that marriage needed to end, and it did.  Again, it was never about staying together.  It was about taking care of yourself in a time when society says that you should suffer greatly, fight, splay yourself supplicant.  I refused to do that.  I felt that it was his crisis, and my job was to focus on what I could control and let go of the rest, which included the outcome of my marriage.  I gave myself a stopping point.  And eventually we stopped.  And now we are divorced.  Amicably.  We are on to new chapters.  All the players are thriving.  And I’ve been given the opportunity to re-live the messages in my book/essay from a new angle.  They still apply and they are still lifelines.  And I can say that I know, without a doubt, that happiness is within.  I’ll leave it at that.

But in the light of this break-neck resurgence of that small essay I wrote what seems a lifetime ago, I am moved to respond to a few things that might help you wherever you are in your lives—in a crisis, post-crisis, free zone.  With the recent inundation of intimate, bleeding emails these last few days, for the most part about a painful marriage…thanking me for my essay on The Week, which indeed provided relief for people, and perhaps a new way of looking at life…I am moved to investigate this phenomena of the collective We. 

We are in pain. 

We are looking for hope. 

We are looking for empowering messages. 

We are looking for these things from every-day people. 

We want to know that We are not alone.

We want to re-invent our relationship with pain.

We want to know that to fight is not always the best way to win.

We want to know that the only real winning is in our ability to step outside of suffering and into emotional freedom.

We want to know that we can powerfully choose our emotions.

We want to know that no one can really make us mad or sad or feel guilty.  Or even happy.

We want to know that life is daily and that we don’t have to go to the top of the mountain to find enlightenment.  It’s right where we stand.  Even at our kitchen sink.

We want to feel connected to our loved ones, but sometimes the best way to connect is by stepping out of their way.

We have forgotten the power of deep breathing.  A long walk.  Candlelight.  A hot bath.  A singular flower in a vase on our nightstand.

We have forgotten that pain can be a terrific guide when we breathe into the groundlessness of it.

We have forgotten that life is about endless possibility.  And endless Yes.  And THAT’S where the real power lives.

Writing helps.  I have used my writing to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life since I was a child.  I did it in my published memoir and essay so many people have read, are re-reading, or  reading for the first time and sharing with their loved ones. 

It’s for precisely this reason that I started Haven Retreats which were recently listed in the top five in the country!  Now I help others dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page.  I invite you to write your way through the difficult times in your life.  You never know what might happen… 

One hour later.  219K shares.  We are 5,000 hungry for these messages and counting…

Note: As of June 4, 2014 there are now over 300,000 shares at The Week so it looks like we’re in this together!

Now booking Haven Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana. 

For more information email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

2014

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

2015

February 25-March 1
June 3-7
June 17-21
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

 

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Blog Hop– Writers Writing

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

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

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

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

With my trusty pen!

With my trusty pen!

pens

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

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

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

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

MEET NEXT WEEKS’ HAVEN BLOG HOPPERS:

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Jorgensen Gane:KimPortraitCrop8 (2)

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

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

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts, Retreats

College Decision Day

Haven Retreat was named one of the top five Writing Retreats in the US by Open Road Media and Tumblr! The last 2014 slots are filling fast so if you want to come, email me asap: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com!
June 18-22 (full)
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

This is for all the parents out there whose child is going to college for the first time this fall…

As featured on The Huffington Post 50, and The Huffington Post College.

May 1st, 2014. It’s been a strange spring for daffodils. By this writing, they’ve usually shot up, bloomed, and wilted. This year: not one yellow head in the garden. These daffodil bulbs are loyal and old friends. I planted many of them when I built my home here in Montana, three years into my now eighteen year old daughter’s life. They have never failed me, and frankly, neither has she. And now she’s a few months shy of fledging. Going to college. Spreading the wings that she has grown in full flourish and that I have proudly procured, mostly in small moments, doing things together like planting bulbs, canning jam from the strawberry garden, collecting heart-shaped rocks on any number of Montana riverbeds to line the garden path. This garden knows this child, and especially the daffodils do. She was born in daffodil time. My hospital room was full of them. I cannot look at a daffodil without thinking of her.

I try not to anthropomorphize as a rule, but something tells me that the daffodils are in revolt. They are harbingers, after all, announcing summer after a long Montana winter when you can’t believe there will be any other color than grey, mid-grey, and white. Somehow, they prestidigitate through the last of the snow and POW—there they are, promising color again. Birth. Every year their promise feels so pure—like the kind a grandmother makes. There will be life again. In abundance. Summer. Sun on flesh on green grass and ladybugs. Lemonade on the front porch with bare, painted toes, and cricket symphonies. I love those daffodils: they are all H.O.P.E. Maybe this year they know that she’ll walk down that garden path in a few months, and not come back for a long time. Maybe they’re depressed. Or in denial, thinking that if they don’t produce blooms, she will somehow stay. Maybe they’re trying to stall spring, so that summer and fall will have to wait. Maybe they’re teasing time in hopes of keeping her around a little longer. The tulips don’t seem to care at all. They’re ready to do their thing, looking around in confusion like their warm-up band has bailed and they have to play to an un-lubed audience.

I’m envious then, of the daffodils. I want to go on strike. To not have to feel my way through this fledge. This inevitable and natural parting. I want to fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’m stepping out of the wake of all this college stuff—the financial aid forms and tax returns, the coast-to-coast-and-in-between college visits, the applications and essays and what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life questions. The info sessions and tours with perky student guides walking backwards and shouting fun university factoids to battle-weary Juniors and their parents. The “Beggars” meetings with advisors and teachers and admissions people and alumni. The rejections. The acceptances. The “Choosers” tour that ended just last week— the trains planes and automobiles that have taken us to all of those hallowed halls, trying them on for size, hoping to fall in love.”

I just want to spend today sitting in the garden with her, amid the daffodils, telling her about the day she was born. And drink hibiscus sun tea. And braid her hair. Can’t I, can’t we, just…plain…duck from all this for a moment? It’s over. She made her choice and she’s thrilled about it. I am too. We have a few months now to breathe. To collect the years of her youth and to pile them up somehow into a cairn that will help her find her way wherever she goes. There is this deep need in me to have it all make sense. To make one defining sculpture of her happy childhood that she can leave behind, and a duplicate for her that is portable.  I’ll put the first one in the garden and slip the other one in a box along with her comforter and favorite pillows marked:  bedding. Maybe the daffodils will come out of hiding then.

Only a mother whose child is going off to college would have these berserk thoughts. I cannot imagine what a mother whose child is going off to war thinks about to fog her fear. I’m sure it’s about way more than daffodils. I keep thinking that I am one of the lucky mothers out there who knows her child will be happy wherever she goes, and if she isn’t, she’ll change things around so that she is. She’s so comfortable in her own skin. She’s so ready to fly. I mean, what if she wasn’t? What if she wanted to live in the basement and get a minimum wage job and let her dreams, or worse her wonder, sift through her fingers? If that was the case, I’d be shoving her out of the nest with all my might. This is a good “problem” to have. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The official college decision day was yesterday. We sent in the deposit. Filled out the last forms. Applied for a few more scholarships. She wore the collegeT-shirt to school, along with her other friends who wore their college-of-choice T-shirts. It was a day of celebration. For her. I made her favorite comfort food: Greek lemon chicken soup. I think tears actually landed in the broth as I stirred. I served it to her in bed because she had homework to do and sprained her ankle running track, and just needed to be in bed. I don’t blame her. It’s the end of a long academic, extra-curricular, SAT, form-filling haul. She deserves her favorite soup in her very own bed. Next year, if she’s having a day like today, she’ll be in a bunk in a dorm room, with ramen and a microwave. Hopefully she’ll call her mother.

I am not a heli-copter mother. I didn’t push her through her childhood (except to take piano lessons, I confess. But I let her finally quit when she got to high school. Now she wishes I had pushed her to keep going…so go figure!) Instead, I took her pulse. I was the wind at her back when she needed it and sometimes without her knowing. But it was always her life to live, not mine. The first thing I said to her when we were alone in the hospital room on the day of her birth, her whole body fitting between my fingertips and the crux of my elbow was, “You can be anything you want to be.” Daffodils and all. Time to fly, my dear daughter. braid_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Top photo credit:  Bruno Lopez Bancalari Regueiro

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Haven Cabin Fever Tunes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Haven Blog Series Winner

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

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

The votes are in and the winner is:

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

Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Katherine Stevenson, Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

 

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