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Come Together…Right Now.

community linking hands_136056599There have been two events in the last week that have brought deep calm and hope to me where I didn’t know hope was missing.  I hadn’t realized how much the news had been weighing on me. I’ve felt a responsibility to watch it, read it, try to understand it– but I think that the current state of this country has been breaking me down from the inside out.  Hard.  And I now know I’m not alone.

For the most part, I keep my political orientation to myself, but I realized this week, that the breakdown I’ve been feeling transcends partisan opinions or beliefs.  It is a deep wound of disorientation.  Of assault on what I believe is the basic goodness of people in general and leaders in specific.  And I see now that our collective is feeling it to the bone.  Bone on bone.  Late night TV isn’t even that funny.  I watch it as a nightly relief, and yes I laugh…but lately, I sort of want to cry at the jokes too.  I feel…despair.

I’m a bucker-upper.  A glass-half-full kinda gal.  A this-too-shall-pass person.  So this despair thing is something new and I dearly and desperately don’t want it to become my new normalIn this last week of hope, I’ve realized that I want to/need to feel like I belong to something that is a firmament of integrity and goodness.  I need to trust-fall into that firmament and know it will catch me and hold me and let me give it my faith.

That happened to me this week.  Twice.  I want to share a bit of it with you so that you know, in case you’ve forgotten, that it’s possible.  But it doesn’t happen by accident.

Hope #1 (not in this order)

I spent the morning of December 5th like many of us did:  watching the George H. W. Bush memorial service.  Politics aside, the sum of its parts blind-sided me with overwhelming sobbing.  Reverie.  A deep internal bowing.

I couldn’t stop it.  I didn’t want to stop it.  There was a fierce intuitive understanding that I needed to cry those tears.  Watching that grief-struck family in that hallowed American hall, with those old hymns and military overtures, those speeches and the appropriate laude and honor…it was clear to me that we were mourning a good man.  The man that was being mourned and honored represents something that I hold dear, and that is the importance of a strong, good, leader who loved his wife, his family, his country, and who believed in kindness and even gentleness.  Who came from an era of loyal patriots that didn’t whine or blame or boast or spew morass.

It brought me back to the rooting of my childhood when I stood in church next to my father and harmonized on hymns and held his liver-spotted hand and played with his soft blue veins and looked at his high white thumb moons and knew that he was the gentleman he was because of his hard work, his WW II pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps way of showing up, his values, his ethics, his common decency, his dedication to his family, his job, his community, his fellow human.  I hear his “Shoulders back, Munson” every day, especially when I need courage.

I believed in those things because of him and the other class-act gentlemen I was raised with from that era.  I cried because I miss them.  They’re dying off.  And in this daily incineration of our hearts by the nightly news…I just want to believe in our country and feel like I can trust-fall into it like I did even then, again, politics aside.  Watching that funeral, I realized that I have never felt more vulnerable and heart- sick as an American, than I do right now.  I long for unity.  I have never seen such division and while I try not to focus on it, how can you not feel its corrosion of the collective?  It’s everywhere.  Remember Hands Across America?  I want to link arms, whatever is your politics, and be good together.  I believe in our central goodness.  My father did too.  He raised me to believe in it, to look for it, to be it.

As I watched those speeches and listened to the Episcopal liturgy of my youth, the bible verses and hymns, I wept.  Sobbed.  Smiled through tears.  One of my very favorites:  O God, our help in ages past.  I sang/hummed along to every verse of it.  I cried at the soprano descants.  The altos grounding it.  But mostly I cried because I saw a family there, grieving their legendary patriarch.  And giving us our own grief to mourn as patriots.  Not divided.  For a few hours, I forgot who our president is, what crazed gun-slinging madman or natural disaster has just devastated a community.  We were crying good tears.  Together.  And I believe that we were grieving not just a man, but our unity.

Tom Brokaw said it so well, holding back tears, just after the service:

“I’ve never seen one that had such an important message that was so far reaching. It was an Episcopalian ceremony with an ecumenical message.  And the message was about faith and hope, but family and values.  About dedication to, not just your family, but your country as well.  And to know WHEN you have to cross the aisle and pull together.

…I think for a lot of people this was a distillation of a message that we all need to hear.  …We ought to be thinking about the message that we heard here today.”

Hope #2

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I also felt that trust-fall into hope in a home in Palm Springs, CA last week, in celebration of two wildly talented women:  an author, and a musician, brought together by an Emmy award winning journalist.  They were having dinner one night, and they decided to celebrate with an intentional gathering of kindreds.  We came from all over—fifty women.  We came with our hearts in our hands, and we came without wanting things from one another, other than community, inspiration, and loving connection.

We were welcomed with the invitation to put down our phones and connect with one another, have those conversations that we all need to be having, in person, looking into each others’ eyes.  We were promised that each person was specially chosen to be at this celebration and that as a result, we were with kindred sisters.

I put any residual adolescent PTSD aside and spent the day trust-falling into each circle of women, and like-wise, holding them as they trust-fell into my circles.  It was an Us Us.  All day.  Hiking through Indian Canyon, eating delicious food, hanging by the pool and hot tub, and all the way through to dress-up evening clothes, and Happy Birthday, and for some of us, late night shenanigans.

Every single one of these women felt like an immediate sister to me.  We all knew that we are highly sensitive people, prone to high-octane empathy and sometimes overwhelm, and we did it anyway.  We trusted each other and we told each other our stories and we tried to find meaning and hope in what feels so painful in our national collective– though we spoke less about that pain, and more about the hope.  And we freaking laughed and played like fifty of the best playmates you may or may not have had as a child.  Or in high school.  Or college.  Or even with your current friends.  But we didn’t talk about what we didn’t have.  We talked about how we wanted more of this!

At one point, I turned to a writer friend who has done my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, our toes wiggling in the warm pool like little girls, and I said, “We are all fluent in this language.  And yet we so rarely speak it.”  She nodded, smiling, and said, “Write that down.”  Which is what I am constantly saying at Haven.  It was so nice to be told it!   So I did, and here it is.  Let’s memorize it.  We are all fluent in this language of connection, and yet we so rarely speak it.  It really is…our Mother tongue.

By the end of the evening, all of us sitting on the floor, eating, laughing, throwing out our arms or putting our palms together as we shared our truth, sometimes touching without meaning to and not apologizing for it, like one organism, moving our appendages in an alchemistic equilibrium, our hostess stood up and called out:  “Shall we meet again next year?!”  And we all hooted and hollered, “YES!”

I kept finding myself saying, “I’m so happy.  I haven’t been happy like this in a long long time.”  It was a surprise because I’m happily with groups of women all the time.  But ‘tis true that we need to receive as much as we give, to make a whole, effective person, and a whole effective heart.

So there it is:  we’re STARVED for connection.  LOVING, supportive, raw and real…connection.  I know this as the author of a memoir, and as the leader of retreats because I hear over and over again messages of gratitude for helping people know that they’re not alone.  But I didn’t realize that I’ve forgotten this as a woman, away from a leadership position.  Everyone in that room is in a leadership role in her life.  And everyone in that room was happy to leave it for the day.  I was so happy not to lead.  To listen and take it all in, and say things in a way that doesn’t have to be quotable or learnable or teachable.  Just to truly…let it all hang out.  Let it all fall back.  Not lean in.  Fall back…in trust and true connection with no agenda except for the hope of feeling known and knowing with our empathy as our guide.

So what I know of hope right now, is the feeling of falling into it and trusting that there are people who can hold you, just as you promise to hold them.  In total health and harmony, heart, and yes hope.  A more kind and more gentle nation…indeed.

I want to thank the women for taking their dinner trio think tank/love-fest, fifty-fold.  I want to thank the nation for stopping this week for a few hours to feel unified.  I want to thank you for reading this and for picking up your lone hand and placing it in the palm of another’s.  We can do this…together.  We have to.  No choice.  We are the UNITED States of America, after all.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24 (only one spot left)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info:  laura@lauramunson.com

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Heart Language

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I woke early this morning, as I seem to do these days, with words.  They were for myself, and I relished them.  And then I decided to give them, in gratitude, to my Haven Writing Retreat alums on our private online page.  As I wrote them, it occurred to me that I am just as grateful for my readers.  So I offer these words to you, as a Thanksgiving:

As we go into the holiday, I want you all to know how grateful I am for you. Outside of my motherhood, Haven is the greatest blessing of my life. You have all engraved yourselves, your muses, your voices, your stories, your pain and joy and self-discovery…into my heart forever. You might think that I don’t remember you, or that you didn’t make an impression on me. It’s not possible. You are all there, in this place called Haven, which I carry with me everywhere.

What I want for you: is to write.  However that works for you, based on who you are and what your life is like and what your responsibilities and habits are.  What I want for you:  is the permission to make time for writing in your life. I want this for you because I know writing to be one of the purest ways to navigate this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I know it because I live by that purity. Do I write every day? No. Do I live with my heart and mind and eyes wide open? Yes. That’s writing too. If you live in this way, then it works in you even when you’re not putting pen to paper or pounding on keyboards. What you are looking for is simply this: truth. Your truth. And if you wake up to that longing and that birthing every day and live by it…the words will come.

Sometimes they’ll want to be put down somewhere. In your journal. In an essay or a short story or a memoir or a novel or a poem or a song. For the last six months, I’ve been writing my way through this Empty Nest transition. I write most mornings but not all of them. Sometimes I read instead. And yes, sometimes I succumb to my email inbox or social media instead. When I do that, I always pay for it. Like I’ve cheated myself out of that meditative waking trance where truth lives. I go into my day scattered, like I’ve flung myself to the wind, and I come down in pieces. I spend my day gathering myself and to no great avail.

So I try very hard not to do that. I try to fall asleep knowing that when I wake, I will honor my rest by going gently into the day with the alchemy of slumber which so often begets words. Not just any words, but those pure words that I call Heart Language. The more I trust in this, the more I wake with a few words of Heart Language that have given themselves to me in my sleeping. When that happens, I go straight to my journal or to a Word document on my computer. I turn off my Wifi so I’m not tempted to stray from them, but instead to honor them fully and see what they need to become. To see how they can hold me in this new day.17212146_10154113844731266_1738394229619340222_o

As you move through this holiday season– maybe with all of your traditions intact, just the way you love them to be, or not…may you take a moment before you move into your day, to let your Heart Language out and onto the page. Root yourself in those words and fasten them to you as you go. Surely this holiday, there will be some sort of gratitude and some sort of disappointment. Holidays just work that way. But if you have the purity of your unique Heart Language guiding you, holding you, you will have clarity and even solace.

So write down some words that will help you. Words you can breathe with. Words you can fold into when you’re tired or sad. Words that you can wrap around you when you need comfort. Or words that you can whisper in a room, alone, when you need courage or just a reminder of who you are, just you. Maybe even words you can offer as thanks to someone you love. My words this morning, and they woke me early as if to say, “you need to write this down so you don’t forget, so you have this one phrase to hold you this holiday without your children,” were: You get to be happy now.

Was I so unhappy, I wonder, in these last six months? I spent an hour writing about it, pre-dawn, pre-this-note to you. I feel grounded, rooted, clear, true, and yes, purified. That’s what I’m fastening to my heart as I go through these unusual days of Thanksgiving, without my motherhood or traditions intact. There will be different ways to give thanks and take pause. My words, as is their promise, will work their grace in me. I hope that you have your words, even if you don’t have your people, or your place, or your usual. If you want to borrow mine, feel free.

You get to be happy now.

With love and gratitude,

Laura

P.S. For my ridiculously deelish gravy recipe, go here!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24 (only a few spots left)
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info:  laura@lauramunson.com

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Thanksgiving Gravy Haven

 

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat
s 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

Well, Thanksgiving is almost here and many of us fear the  gravy.  Fear NOT!  You don’t need flour.  You don’t need to reduce anything.  And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need some powdered packet from the grocery store.  I have been playing around with my gravy for years, and this is where I’ve landed.  It’s a commitment, but you will be having “some turkey with your gravy” by the time you take your first taste.  Enjoy, and remember to tell the people you’re with on this holiday what you appreciate about them.  And stay off politics!!!!!!!

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!

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

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

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
    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. 
    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

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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The “Me Time” Medal: a week of wellness

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What does it take, I wonder, to just…stop?  To stop the madness of pushing buttons and swiping, clicking, scrolling from one screen to the next, taking trains, planes, and automobiles here and there and everywhere, booking that appointment up against the one before it and the one after it…instead of taking that hour to…eat?  Take a walk?  Stretch?  Or not do anything at all except…breathe?

I never thought of myself as a multi-tasker.  I left the rat race before I ever fully joined it.  I moved to a place that people yearn for, but only after they’ve lived in the “real world,” building careers and relationships and families in cities and suburbs– the Montana prize at the end of it, not the beginning of it.  Still, my kids make fun of me now during our Facetime calls.  “Let me guess, Mom.  You’re doing twenty-five thousand things at once.”

“Me?  No.  I am not.  I’m just…you know…running my business.  And writing two books.  And getting ready for my next retreat.  And paying my bills.  And booking my ticket for the Morocco Haven writing retreat.  And finding an Air B&B in Marrakech.  And researching the best and cheapest snow blower because I’m not going through another Montana winter without a snow blower.  And…”

They roll their eyes and laugh at me from my laptop on the kitchen counter, so it’s almost like they’re here again, doing the same thing.

“Huh.  Am I really that person?”

“Uh…what do you think?” my daughter says.

“You’re a chronic multi-tasker, Mom.  Admit it,” my son says.  “And it’s getting worse.”

“We’re worried about you,” she adds.

“Oh don’t be worried about me!  I love my work.  I love all of it.  And now that you’ve all fledged the nest, I’m told that there’s this thing called Me Time.  I think I could get used to that idea.  Oh, and don’t let me forget– I made Bolognese sauce and froze it last night.  For Christmas.  Oh, and I need to book your flights.”

“Mom.  We’re old enough to book our own flights.  And are you really taking care of yourself?  I mean, are you sick?  You sound sick.”

“Oh, it’s just a little cold.”  I’ve been holding it back, but I let out a bone rattling hack.  “Sorry.  What were you saying?  Oh yeah.  Flights.  Well, I’ll pay for them.  I’ll give you my credit card.”

“That cough sounds nasty.  You need to take a day off.  Have you even eaten today?”

“I had a smoothie this morning.”  The tides have turned, I guess.  I tell them that I’m fine.  I’m just run down.  I’ve just finished a seven week work marathon, leading four five day retreats and traveling to Minneapolis to do events, and I have a cold.  “My energy level is fine.  It sounds worse than it is.”

I.       Am.         Lying.

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The truth is, I’m sick as a dog.  I got back from my last business trip, and hit the wall.  I’ve been lying in bed for three days with a roll of toilet paper, (ran out of Kleenex), various and random tinctures and likely-expired remedies (my eyes are too goopy to see the fine print), Mason jars of water and Emergen-C, Tiger Balm, and something called Gypsy Cream that my friend made and which my raw nose really likes.  My eyes ache so I can’t effectively look at my computer.  I’m too tired to drive into town for supplies.  I haven’t been this flat-out ill in years.  It reminds me of being sick as a child—all set up in my parents’ bed watching The Price is Right and All My Children and General HospitalOnly there are no parents to take care of me now.

I make that thought go away and try to think light, un-pathetic things, like:  Do people even watch soap operas and game shows these days?

In the last three days, I’ve tried to find out—to make myself succumb to brain mush.  To let this cold be a gift of…Me Time.

I last about three minutes.  All those commercials with the women in creased khakis and pressed linen button-downs, happily scouring their white bathroom floors with one errant strand of hair fallen across their line-less foreheads.  Bleck.  Those women don’t exist and if any woman on earth thinks they do…they are in for abject and relentless PAIN when they wake up from the dream.

I turn the TV off so quickly, so allergically, that I wonder:  Was I in some sort of a motherhood dream?  Have I suddenly woken up, now that the last child is gone?  Because I’m in a lot of pain, and not just in my lungs.  It’s in my heart.  Not the one that beats.  The one that wants it all back, just for one day.  Those little babies climbing all over me so that there’s no time to do anything other than just blissfully be with them.  The ones who are telling me now that I’m a serial multi-tasker.  The ones who are worried about me.

IMG_3782I stare at the snow.  I really can’t let that snow stack up.  And I really need to get those airplane tickets.  And I have three business calls that I really need to take this afternoon.  I’ll just push Mute when I have to cough.  How hard is it to take calls in bed?  They won’t know, anyway.  They’ll think I’m in some sort of writerly Montana She Shack.  With distressed barn wood and black and white photos of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin.  Instead of balled-up toilet paper all around me, and pillows which have lost their cases in the mayhem of all this tossing and turning and coughing and blowing.  And self-pity.

But this cold won’t let me lie to myself.  It only lets me lie in bed.  Just like my children have prescribed.

When I have the energy to move, I make bone broth and tea and slog up to bed again.  I’ve lost my sense of taste.  Even my lover, Earl Grey, tastes like mucus.  Everything tastes like mucus.  My head feels like it weighs twenty pounds.  I should probably cave and take cold medicine, which I hate.  But I don’t even have cold medicine in the house.  I’ve always told my kids that we should feel our symptoms so that we are true to them.  “We need to honor our bodies, not pretend we’re fine, when we’re not.”  When did I become such a hypocrite?  Was it the minute I dropped my second child off at college and came home to Empty Nest?

My kids text me later.  “You okay?”

This is new.

“I’m fine,” I repeat.  “I’m about to take a nap.”

Which I don’t.  Instead I stare at the snow melting on the roof, trying to think Me Time Empty Nest thoughts:  I need to search ebay for a cheap snow blower.  Does that count?IMG_3782

And then, in the way back of my mucus-y mind, in my grandmother’s southern drawl, I hear:  “Dear.  I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.  She needs to take a rest.”  I remember thinking as a child that, based on the sternness in my grandmother’s brow, we had a real problem on our hands:  that my mother might even die from hard work.  That maybe there was no medal at the end of all her achievements, even though it seemed like she was going after one.  She always seemed like she was medal-worthy to me.  But my grandmother’s worry felt more important than any work—even change-the-world work.

My God.  Are they worried about me the way I was worried about my mother?  Am I passing the baton to my kids and are they insisting that this incessant hard-work-to-the-point-of-self-violence gene needs to end?

Because, just like her, I’m always throat-high in a project.  Or three.  Or yes, maybe even twenty-five thousand.  Always more blue blocks on my Google calendar than white ones.  I heard Joan Rivers say on a talk show once something to the tune of, “When I have an empty calendar, I’ll know my life is over.”  Am I like that? I wonder, watching the gutters do their job.  Frankly, they look tired too.

I don’t think of myself as a workaholic.  I mean, I live in Montana.  I work in my pajamas a lot of the time– don’t even own a business suit.  I drive a totaled truck and stop it often, on the side of the road, to take in the unabashed beauty of big sky country.  I spent years playing with my kids on the floor, reading with them and singing with them and snuggling with them.  Yes, I worked out of the home, but I was always just a few steps away if they needed me, and once they went to school, I worked on my career, yes, but I never missed a recital or a school program, and hardly missed a game.  I was that mom.

IMG_3782But now that they’re gone…have I put the pedal to the floor instead of allowing myself to be in neutral for a while?  And…if I’m being brutally honest…do I really want to get to know myself again, outside of my motherhood and my work?  And while I’m at it…since I can no longer bury myself in my motherhood, have I now buried myself in work so that I don’t have to be in this thing called Empty Nest, the memories lurking in every surface of this home?  Most of them so joyous.  Some of them, so not.  Am I going to be a total disaster at Me Time?

What would it take for me to actually…enjoy this Empty Nest?  This Me Time.  People tell me that it’s time to be selfish.  I have a friend who said, just before my son left for college, “I’m going to check on you every week and see if you’re doing something just for you.  Something new and different, to get to know yourself outside of your motherhood and your career.”

“I’m planning on having more time to write and publish books.  And travel.”

“I don’t mean writing.  Or traveling.  I mean at home.  Something you haven’t tried before, right where you live.”

“Like what?” I asked her, truly blank.

She smiled.  “Like…tango lessons.  Like…fly-fishing.  Something just for you.”

Huh.

“I take a bath every night.  Does that count?  I can’t get enough of Modern Family and Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace) re-runs.  There are stacks of books on my bedside table.  Which I read hungrily.  I write every morning.  These are all ways of taking care of myself.  Aren’t they?”

“Mmmmm.  You need to do something…new.”  She knows.  She believed in newness so much that she left her job in Chicago and moved, solo, to Montana.  I’ve never seen her so happy.

IMG_3782Lying here, blowing my nose and feeling so inert, so unproductive and blob-ish– I wonder if I thought that there would be a medal at the end of motherhood.  Like graduation.  Like people would stand up for you and clap and give you a fancy scroll that you can frame and hang on the wall to prove your hard work.  And I wonder, since that doesn’t exist, if I have just succeeded in transferring all of that gumption, all of those hours that I’m no longer parenting day to day, into my career.  Sure looks like it, I think, staring at the snow melting.  And it also sure looks like my body’s not having it.  At all.

So I give in and just allow the last seven weeks to flicker by like a home movie on the snowy roof:  I dropped my son off at college, came back, and two days later began my work marathon.  I worked intimately with over fifty women in my five day and one day retreats and workshops.  I gave them everything I possibly could give.  I loved it like I loved…well, my motherhood.  I always do.

But in planning my fall schedule last year, I must have been absolutely terrified of Empty Nest because from September to December, there were pretty much only blue blocks on my Google calendar.  No white ones– not after 6:00 am or before 8:00 pm.  And no green ones at all– the places where my motherhood used to live.  I colored everything blue with Work.  I don’t remember doing it.  But I must have looked at those white spaces and gone Marsha Brady, filling it all in to the brim.  Never a moment to stop.

And now…surprise:  I’m sick.  It’s such a beautiful sunny snow day.  I could be out playing in it instead of lying here feeling miserable.

I breathe in and let out a long emphysema-sounding sigh.  What if I use this illness to practice on?  What if, just for this week, I cleared those blue blocks to white space, and didn’t fill them with anything?  I mean really…nothing.  Not even the Food Network.  Or Netflix.  Or even a bath.  My retreat season is over.  All of the blue blocks are things that can wait, at least a week.  What if I allowed myself to just lie here and watch the snow melting off the roof and felt my infected lungs rising and falling and let myself feel grateful for each breath that doesn’t erupt in a hack.

For one solid week…what if I didn’t write anything or read anything or do anything or try to be anything, outside of well?  What if this white-spaced nothing…is the medal?  The Me Time Medal.  What did Winnie the Pooh say?  “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”  And then, after I’m over this cold…what if I kept it going—this commitment to the white blocks of nothing?  Sure, there’ll be blue blocks.  I like it that way and my bank account requires it too.  But what if I learned to value the white just as much?

IMG_3782I ask us all, because I’ll just bet that you can relate:  Do we have to get sick to stop?  Or can we just stop for no reason other than:  we know we need to.  We know it’s good for us.  We want to be good to ourselves.  And if we are…maybe the “medal” is wellness.  Happiness.  Peace.  We can at least try.

So for just this moment: 

Just…let your chest rise and fall. 

Feel your heart beating. 

Let your heavy head fall back. 

You don’t have to hold it up right now. 

Something can hold you.

I’ll try it too.  Today, all day, right after I do this writing thing that I know is good for me, but that I also know is still a way of doing not being…I’m going to let my head fall into pillows, close my eyes.  Breathe.  Be.  And let my body heal.

Maybe tango lessons next week.  Who knows.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2019!  (special holiday discounts!!!!)

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

March 20-24
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

***Haven Wander:  Morocco is full.

 

 

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“Allow Yourself To Be Spelled Differently” A Fable in Two Parts

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset(Borrowed from my journal on an island in Greece, 1986)

Once upon a time, there was a wildly curious but wildly terrified nineteen year old girl.  She realized one day that her curiosity was more wild than her terror, so she decided to throw it away and step full force into her wonder.

She started to make choices that didn’t please anyone but herself.  For once.  She started to do things that people questioned, and even berated her for, because they weren’t what she was “supposed” to do or be.  She was even called “selfish” just for choosing to do what she really wanted to do.  It wasn’t like she was doing anything illegal or cruel.  Just stuff she really wondered about.  And wanted to learn from and fasten to her heart.  And even things that she longed to become.  Oh well.

She decided then and there that she would allow herself to be wildly misunderstood.  Because she started to see that life was going to be heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and if she didn’t make choices that served her, then she’d never make it through in any way that felt true.  And THAT was more scary than anything she’d ever imagined.

So one by one…choice by choice, she went.  Sometimes she found herself very much alone because of it, and yes, misunderstood.  But there were glorious gifts along the way:  in people, places, moments of pure joy.  And every so often, she even felt…special.  Not in the ways she was supposed to be special.  But just…special.  Alone in it.  But she was not sure if she liked that part.

So she started filling up pages and pages of blank books.  She was never without her blank books—sometimes just simple pamphlets she picked up, and sometimes hand-made, leather-bound books.  Always blank though.  Never lined.  She’d had enough of the restrictions and requirements of lines.  She needed her thoughts and her words to be big and loopy and unabashed.

It was the beginning of her freedom.

And yes, it came with a cost.  She knew it would.  But what was the alternative?  A life spent making everyone else happy, staying neatly and precisely and preciously in their parameters?  She knew that pursuit would never work, because it would never be enough for those people.  She would be always dancing.  Always trying to be a greater swan for people who wanted her to be a swan.  She did not want to be a swan.

So she cut her hair and bought a bunch of baggy clothes, and a backpack, and went overseas.  She was only nineteen, so she didn’t have a lot of choices in the take-to-the road department, but she chose Turkey over other people’s Switzerland, and Greece over other people’s France, and a troubled Yugoslavia over other people’s London.  And she did a lot of it…“alone” but always with her journal.  She liked it that way.  Her journal didn’t judge.  It didn’t blame.  It didn’t ask anything of her but to fill up its pages.  And even then, it didn’t really ask.  It just offered the possibility of its page and called her to put pen to it in whatever way she wanted.  Because the truth was…she still cared what people thought of her.  Shhhhh…. It’s her dirty secret.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

(Borrowed from my journal, 2018…inspired by the above)

Once upon a time, there was a wildly terrified and wildly curious fifty-two year old woman.  She had raised two wildly free children and that had been her life’s goal, outside of being a writer and hopefully a published author.  She had achieved her goals.  And now she was alone with her journal all over again.  She didn’t know why she was so scared.  She had a cozy home in the mountains of Montana in a lovely little town full of remarkable souls.  She had time on her hands after a long time with no time on her hands.

Time.

How to spend it so that her fear would quell, and her wonder would find itself again.  In fact, maybe that was what she was so scared of:  how to make her time matter now.  She wanted to matter.  But she didn’t want to matter in the way the world said we should matter:  in currency that was not unlike what she left all those years ago.  The currency of swans.  Beauty.  Grace.  Being the special bird.  For her, it had been by being the different bird.  She was beginning to see that in all of her choices, she had never really stopped wanting to be special.  Special for following the rules.  Special for not following the rules.  Special for making up her own rules.  Special for achieving excellence in her own rules.

What if she wasn’t special?  What would that be like?  What if she was totally unremarkable?  What if she did what she wanted to do, not as a reaction to what she was supposed to do, but rather, simply because she wanted to do it for herself and for no big reason?  What if she didn’t care what people thought of her at all?  For real this time.

So, like her nineteen year old self, she decided to go far away from home.  She had always wanted to go to Morocco.  Something about the color and the spices and the Moorish architecture she’d seen as a child in Spain.  She wanted to sit for a long time in places that didn’t require anything from her…and just be.  Allow herself to be “spelled differently,” as the poet Emma Mellon suggests.  She wanted to go alone with her journal and write on park benches and on ancient steps, under towering archways, and under olive trees’ shade.  She wanted to bum around and not have plans.  Maybe take a nap in a park instead of always doing doing doing.  She wanted to be be be.  In fact, she knew she had to.  It was the cure for her fear.  Her fear of being not this, not that, not this, not that.  But simply and purely:  just her.

In short:  she needed to re-introduce herself to herself and she needed to have all of the usuals removed.  Except for her journal and those blank pages.  They were the best way she knew to look into her eyes and welcome them as the windows to the soul she longed to finally come home to.

So…this February…she is going.  Someone is taking care of her cozy home and she is going to pack a small bag, and get on a plane and wind her way to Morocco for a month.  For a week within that month, she will share writing with seven women who are similar seekers, perhaps also longing to “allow themselves to be spelled differently.”  She’s not exactly sure what she will find there, and that’s the very reason why she is going.  She hopes she will find her wonder again.  And cast fear aside so that the future can give itself to her.  Maybe she’ll now, finally, be truly free.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2019!

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

March 20-24
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

***Haven Wander:  Morocco is full.

 

 

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10 Year Anniversary of My Season of Unlikely Happiness…

…Sometimes you need a dose of your own medicine…

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One of the blessings of writing my memoir, “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness,” and the essay version of it, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” are the notes you get from people.  I have been lucky enough to hear from a LOT of people, from all over the world, because the New York Times “Modern Love” column is mighty, and so is Amy Einhorn and Penguin/Putnam.  The essay went viral (#2 “Modern Love” essay in the history of the column), and the book was published in nine countries!  I never dreamed any of that would happen when I wrote it.  I was just writing my way through a challenging summer of rejection from my then husband, and I was fiercely committed to non-suffering in a time when most would call me an emotional victim.  I’d suffered enough in my life because of my sensitivity to other people’s actions, and I wanted to look this suffering beast in the eyes and shout Gandalf’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”  I wanted to finally find emotional liberation from my reactions to the things people say and do to me.  I wanted to be even…happy.  Which meant I had to become acutely aware of the way my mind works, how it gets in its way, and how it finds its way out of the dark forest.  During that six month time of my life, I practiced this self-awareness moment by moment.  Sometimes I failed.  Sometimes I was even good at it.  And always, I learned.

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This was new news to many people—that you could find your way out of suffering at a time when your beloved utters these dread words:  “I don’t love you anymore.”  The responses to the book and the essay were a brilliant reflection of what is at the core of humanity and it drove home something that I have always believed:  people everywhere want the same things.  To love.  To be loved. To feel of value. To be happy.  And there are a lot of people out there who are in pain and don’t know what to do with it.  They’ve given themselves to a relationship, and their partners are rejecting them.  They think that their well-being is contingent upon someone else’s treatment of them.  And it’s…just…not.  Happiness is in you.  It doesn’t get bestowed upon you.  Even from the ones who are supposed to love you most. writing

One of the things I loved dearly about the whole experience (and it still goes on nine years after the book’s publication), were the notes I got over and over, so often saying these words:  “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”  Because as memoir writers know…writing your heart out starring you as the main character ain’t for sissies.  And to know that your transparency truly helped someone out there…makes it a little less hard to write past the fear of self-exposure.  It helps give us the courage to be honest, and sometimes brutally so.  If you can think, “I am going to let myself bleed in these pages in hopes that it might be of service to myself and others,” it makes it a lot easier to open that vein.  The key is to do it from a place of service, and not venom.  To be self-responsible the whole way through, with your eye on the service piece.  Even so, there are the haters out there.  The people who enjoy kicking you when you’re down.  It’s easy to have big cojones behind a computer screen.  I always just think:  I’m glad I don’t have to live in that person’s mind, making people wrong all the time instead of trying to find the light in what it is that they have to say.

This person found the light.  And asked a good question.  My birthday was this week, and this fan, whom I’ve never met, sent me a lovely birthday blessing on Facebook.  I looked back at our message feed to remember who he was, and found his note from 2009 when the essay came out in the New York Times, prior to the book.  And then I read my response to it.  Boy, did I need those words.  Sometimes it’s as if we hold our wisdom in words…so that later…when we’ve forgotten or really need a re-fresher, it’s there for us.  This is what reading my own words, sparked by his kindness, did for me, as I bring my son to college in a few days, and come home to my Empty Nest.

IMG_0061Looking back now, I know that the time depicted in my memoir/essay was one of the most powerful times of my life.  A true awakening.  But we go back to sleep sometimes.  Or take little naps.  I’ve been so focused on the dread of Empty Nest, that I have perhaps forgotten the blessings.  May my response to him, then, help all of us.

Here are our notes to one another:

Dear Laura,
I was re-reading your wonderful essay last night, and had a very practical question: at one point you talked about “I’d committed to the ‘End of Suffering.’” I see what you mean by not looking to outward success as a measure of personal happiness, which is very wise.

Were there particular techniques or strategies that you found helpful? In my own life, I find it easy to disengage from material success or career success as a measure of happiness, but I still do find myself often defining my happiness through the success of my marriage, which is struggling at this point.

Not looking for any marriage guru advice here! Just was intrigued about the “End of Suffering” idea, and wondering if you had found something that helped. Thank you for the gift of your time.

Just lovely.  Right?  The kind of letter an author cherishes. 3d-notthestory (1)

My response:

Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry you’re having a rough time in your marriage. And thank you for your good question. Here is my attempt to answer it– before breakfast—with my tea beside me: When I think of suffering, I think of the years in my life when I didn’t know I was in pain. Most of that had to do with being a writer and not understanding how I could feel so deeply called to daily arrive at this intersection of heart and craft and mind and intuition on the page…and yet not have that trajectory met. I just couldn’t understand how to bear that pain. What was the point?

Well…finally I realized that I was plagued with some pretty faulty thinking. The act of creation simply had to be enough. So I dedicated myself to that. And immediately– the pain was gone. It was so liberating. I didn’t have to be a victim of something. I never wanted to be a victim– it’s not my true nature. I think of myself as a joyful, powerful person. But I saw how I had been playing that victim role as a writer, and as a woman… for quite some time. Basing my happiness on things outside my control. It truly is insanity and a wise woman helped me to see that.

So when my husband had his own crisis of self…I recognized it. I had been in that place. But even still…I had to let go of him getting through it. It was a moment by moment act of surrender. Returning to the present moment. And being creative in it. I could control what I could create and there was a lot of joy there if only I tapped into it. And joy sure beats pain. “What can I create?” is the most powerful question I know.

But here’s the thing: pain has become our normal in so many cases, and most of us, even those of us who are seekers and aware and practice being so…sometimes can’t see where we’re in pain. And we re-choose it over and over out of habit. You may already know all this. I guess I did too, at that time in my life. I just had never gotten the chance to practice it like I did in that season of my marriage. Sure, I had a large dose of pain after my father died…but meeting with dis-affection is different. It wants to creep into you and tell you that you are somehow bad. Wrong. And the worst: unlovable. But that is simply a lie. And one that we often live into and make true.

So I guess I would say to you on this spring Montana morning with the first red-winged blackbird singing in the marsh, that you don’t have to be defined by your marriage or your spouse. You can be free and even joyful in this time. Regardless of how it ends up. It’s such a wonderful way to live, and dare I say, you become rather magnetic when you live like that. And yes, maybe even quick to love.  But that never made anybody a fool, even though our reactionary society will try to tell us this. Not everybody wants to receive our love, but WE can receive our love. In that act of creation. Even this tea that sits steaming next to me on my desk– I created that. And it feels good. So I wish for you creation today. Hope that helps.

Yours,

Laura

10 years later from this season of my life, I send love to us all,

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Laura

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2018 Haven Writing Retreat Montana Dates

September 19-23 (full)
September 26-30 (one spot)
October 24-28 (one spot)

 

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

 

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  Now booking 2019!

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What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

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I’m glad that Self-Care is finally a “thing.”  I’m glad that when we hear that phrase now, it’s not considered selfish so much as it is believed to be self-preservational.  But I hail from the former way of thinking and it’s taken me a lot to arrive at the latter.  I think I’m officially…finally…sorta-kinda-maybe-please-God…there.

But first…let’s dip back into the 1960s.  And 70s.  And 80s.  People didn’t “work out” when I was growing up.  Handsome men had bodies like Rock Hudson and Cary Grant—with soft middles and borderline man-boobs, skinny legs and gentlemen bi-ceps.  Women had “love handle” hips, and god-forbid muscle mass.  Hell, Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.  Super models were a size 6.  I was a size 6 and people told me I was too skinny.  When I became a size 8, people told me I was “just right.”  No one belonged to a gym.  The only mainstream Yoga was with Lillian on PBS– strictly spiritual, not for sculpting an attract-a-Hedge-fund-manager ass.  Frozen yoghurt was a sexy craze, especially with carob chips on top.  Woo-woo!  Health food was for Hippies.  Milk came from cows, and you were supposed to drink a lot of it.  Plenty of the population smoked and boozed and not a lot of people felt guilty about it.  When Jane Fonda hit the scene in make-it-burn leg warmers and striped leotards, we all were a bit confused.  When Richard Simmons introduced this thing called jogging, my grandmother said, “how unattractive, jiggling yourself all over the road like that.”  She and her Marshall Fields girdle.  She was also known to say, “Why stand when you can sit, and why sit when you can lie down” and made a mean southern fried chicken.  She lived to be 98.

I’m not saying that these were better times.  I’m just saying…that people had a very different relationship with their bodies then…compared to now.  Some people joined the fitness craze.  I didn’t.  I was lucky.  My body was just naturally healthy and fit.  Fit enough, anyway, so that I didn’t think too much about it.  As I moved into the “real world” from college, I walked and rode my bike as much as I could, but more because I didn’t have a car.  I ate healthy food, because healthy food was everywhere.  I lived in Seattle, after all.  Organic food was the norm.  Farm to table was the standard.  Foraging was a good afternoon in the forest with friends.IMG_4873

My mid-western father would scoff:  “Why do you have to go and spend all that money on fancy food.”

“Because when you were young, all food was organic, Dad!  They weren’t poisoning it!”

He never bought it.  He ate the same old same old.  He walked the Chicago Loop every day to work.  Played a little tennis.  A little golf.  Raked a lot of leaves.  He lived to be 86.  Worked happily until he died.  Healthy to his final good-byes.

“You come from good farm stock,” he’d always say.  And I believed him.  All the way through my 30s.

But little by little, as I moved into my late 30s, I started to feel like I was missing out on this fitness craze.  My friends’ bodies were looking sculpted and better in bathing suits, (bikinis, mind you)…than we all did in our 20s!  They were, in their words, “Getting after it.”

I wasn’t sure what the “it” was, but I figured I’d better give it a whirl.  My body hadn’t really recovered from having two children, and I hadn’t worn a pair of jeans, never mind a bikini, in years.  And in my subconscious I knew…(I just didn’t want to admit)…that I had honored my mind all my life.  My writing was the outward sign of that.  In it all…there was always writing.  Writing doesn’t make your ass look great in jeans, but it feeds the soul.  Writing has always been the constant, all my life.  I still hold:  that writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.  Key word:  exercise.IMG_4873

Exercise meant moving my body.  I knew how to move my mind.  My body was secondary and always had been.  I knew that it was supposed to be my temple, but I didn’t need it to be a fancy one.  I’d watched plenty of women attempt that.  It had always seemed so frivolous.  Like such a vacuous pursuit.  The columns of my temple had seemed well-enough fortified to hold up more important affairs—that of the mind and soul and spirit.

But now it seemed like those columns were starting to become a little bit shaky.  (Side note:  No one was calling this “it” Self-Care.  Yet.)  And it occurred to me that without my body…my mind wasn’t worth much.

So I went after this version of “it.”  Hard.  I joined the gym, got a personal trainer, and worked out every day, rode horses three times a week, got a nutritionist, and heck, while I was at it…a therapist to see how to connect my mind to my body once and for all.

Those happened to be days when there was some money in the bank, but even still, I felt guilty and self-indulgent.  What was I trying to prove to myself, anyway?  That I was strong?  That I had willpower?  That I could be skinny and fit like the rest of the women out there who seemed to agelessly fit into designer jeans?  I was never that woman to begin with.  I had energy.  I felt healthy.  But this pursuit did not make me feel happy.  I started to dread the gym.  All those people going nowhere fast on all those machines.  And here we lived in Montana!  What was wrong with taking a good old-fashioned walk?

Then one day, I walked into the gym and this woman came out of the yoga room with a towel over her shoulder.  “You just missed yoga,” she said like the worst mean girl in high school.  Was this some sort of competition?  Were people trying to win some sort of medal?  It brought up all of my early childhood I’m bad at sports S***.  And I turned around and didn’t come back.  Aggressive gym people weren’t my peeps.  Especially aggressive yoga gym people.  I stuck to my horse.  And walks in the woods.IMG_4873

But I’m a writer.  I sit for a living.  My back was a mess.  My stomach was slack like it had never been before in my life.  And then I fell off my horse (but at least it’s a helluva good story—other day, other blog post) and spent three months in bed.  I felt weak.  And frustrated.  I was in my mid-40s then, and my body was changing.  Fast.

And then the damn steps thing had to come out.  And suddenly everyone was bragging about how many frigging steps they took.  At my kids’ soccer games.  At the grocery store.  So then it wasn’t enough to lift some weights in my living room and get my heart rate up on my treadmill or up the ridge for half an hour.  Now I had to have 10,000 steps a day if I wanted to live to see my grandchildren.  Oh, and p.s. suddenly milk came from nuts.  So coffee could never taste good again.  And you couldn’t eat a good loaf of bread.  And butter was absolutely positively out.  And so basically, I couldn’t eat anything except for avocados.  And almond butter.  And bananas.  But only before noon.  And freaking kale.  And brussel sprouts.  And BEETS.  Couldn’t a girl get a good steak in this world of “getting after it?”  I was depressed.  I’m sure of it.  My temple, including my mind, was crumbling.

So…I just gave up.  On the whole thing.  Ate as much butter and toast as I damn well pleased.  Felt guilty about each bite.  Turned my treadmill into a clothes rack.  Felt guilty about it.  Took walks when I wanted to.  And felt guilty when I didn’t.  Basically I guilted myself into a place of not eating.  And not moving.  Just sitting and writing.  And that doesn’t work either.  Menopause really doesn’t like not eating and not moving.  So suddenly…no clothes fit.  And I noticed one day that I was starting to get that thing under my chin that my grandmother had.  The one who said, “Why stand when you can sit and why sit when you can lie down.”  I’d blown my thyroid.  And my blood pressure, in my doctor’s words, “sucked.”  I was moving rapidly into my 50s.  My face, and a lot of my skin, had fallen.  And it couldn’t get up.

Things needed to change.  Really change.  I needed to rip up my relationship with my body and my mind…and start all over again.  I needed to ease out of all of this mania.  Find a new way.  A way that would work for me.  Because I realized that somehow, after everything I had tried…I was still separating my mind from my body.  I wasn’t caring for my whole self.IMG_4873

And then this thing called Self-Care came along.  People were talking about it and it didn’t have anything to do with a gym.  Or kale.  It had to do with something that met me in a place I had been longing for all my life.  A place that I only knew on the page with a pen in my hand, or tapping a keyboard.  I wanted to learn just what Self-Care really meant.  Not as an action verb.  But as a way of being.

So I hired a therapist.  Again.  Fifteen years later.  Maybe this one would help me in a new way.  In a way that would feed my soul.  A way that would be about my whole self.

One day, in her bright little office by the river, she gave me a little frame with the word:  gentleness in it.  “Keep it for as long as you need it,” she said.

“What am I supposed to do with it?  Anything specific?”

She smiled.  “Just…whatever you want.”

So I put it on my bedside table.  I’m in my bed a lot.  My office has become overrun with too many stacks of too much grown-up left brain stuff.  My bed is soft and safe and holds my muse well, especially in these weeks before my house empties, my son goes to college, and it’s just me.

At first I wasn’t so sure about it.  I have plenty on my bedside table already.  Stacks of books of poetry and spiritual texts, fiction, and non-fiction.  Essential oils and candles and journals and so many really good pens.IMG_4873

And now this little frame.  Gentleness.  In lower case loopy script.  I figured it would get lost in the shuffle.

Instead…my eyes caught on it over and over.  Probably five-ten times before I even finished my morning writing.  Probably another ten times during the second cup of tea.  Again later folding laundry.  Talking to my daughter, away in California on her first post-collegiate job.  I miss her like crazy.

Gentleness.

Talking to my son, as he comes in with baseball news and plans for the night and the ever-present-request of gas money.  He drives the old Suburban after all and there’s no way to work when you’re playing Legion ball.  Still.  I am not made of money.  But man, am I going to miss that kid.

Gentleness.

Each time my eyes meet this little word in this little frame, I realize that my shoulders are tight.  My jaw is clenched.  And it does something to me.  I take in a breath and sigh.  Loosen whatever is tight.  It feels so nice.  So…gentle.IMG_4873

Gentleness.

My mother is moving.  She wants to know if I want my father’s WWII Army blanket and duffle bag.  If I want her old record player.  If I’m going to show up at my son’s Parent’s Weekend in Minnesota, even though I lead a retreat a week prior, and a week after.  And if she can come.

Gentleness.

And I’ve realized…that I have lived so much of my life bracing against it all.  I don’t have to.  Anymore.  Gentleness can be the most powerful way I have ever lived.

In the last few weeks with this new little frame as my companion, I’ve learned to be gentle about the way I care for myself.  It doesn’t come easily to me.  At all.  Taking care of others comes easily to me.  Taking care of myself…that still feels like a tall order.  But being gentle with myself?  I can do that.  In little moments.  Baby steps.  And I know…babies fall hard.  But they get up.  I was that baby once.  We all were.

I’ve found that the first place to start is with this gentleness.  To give myself permission to find my way to Self-Care, and not judge myself if it looks very different from how others might approach theirs.  Like you’ll probably never find me in a gym.  Or in an ISO floating tank.  Or running a marathon.  Or counting my steps with a watch on my wrist.

On a good week it looks like this:  riding horses.  Doing daily yoga in my living room.  And writing.

On a normal week it looks more like this:  taking walks.  Doing a few yoga poses here and there.  And writing.IMG_4873

I try to be kind to myself.  To go slowly.  To realize that to sit and be and notice and stop the madness of this cyber “cult of the personality” * which has become our civilization…is a powerful way of caring for ourselves.  We don’t have to be in constant motion.

Maybe I’ll be soft around the belly.  Maybe my heart rate won’t be monitored by a machine.  I’ll know it’s working by the way it carries me up the ridge behind my house.  I’ll know I’ve honored my body when I wake up the next day and feel that I moved it well.  I’ll know by the look in my eyes:  that my grandmother was right that carrots make them bright.  I’ll eat my carrots.  But not because I’m supposed to.  But because I delight in how they give themselves to me so that I can keep on going.

Gentleness.

There is a prayer that I use, not just for food, but for all that I do for my body and soul.  May it help you feel gentleness and gratitude.

This food is a gift from the whole universe.

The earth, the sky, and much hard work.

May we be mindful of our deeds as we receive this food.

May it transfer hatred, anger, and greed.

May it prevent illness and keep us well.

In gratitude, we receive this nourishment, that we may seek the path of love, compassion, and wisdom.

(A variation on the prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Gentleness then, to us all.

Love,

Laura

* Braided Creek

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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The Art of Giving Up…to Go On.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPart One

Ten years ago, I watched my friend go through Empty Nest.  Her solution:  drive a massive ice-breaking truck at the McMurdo Research Center in Antarctica.  She brought some home-made hula hoops too, and a few instruments, because she’d never go anywhere without those personal items.  She faced Empty Nest with something more like…Empty Next– with the same electrifying spirit and adventure with which she’d raised her boy and girl…and now they were off to see the world.  And she was too.

At that time in my life, my boy and girl were still thick in the throes of music lessons and sports events and homework at the kitchen table and weekend slumber parties.  I couldn’t imagine letting them go, much less letting myself go.  Not like that.  I was sad for her, even though I knew she’d come back with tales to tell and more life experience under her frost-bitten belt.  But I felt like she was avoiding the grief…going so far away.  It looked like running away to me.

I mentioned it to another friend and she said, “Are you kidding?  Motherhood is great.  But you’re always a mother, even after they leave.  It’s just different.  Your kids are on to new things, and you should be too!  And you get to have your life back!”

My life back?  I felt like I was just getting the life I’d dreamed about.  Being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done.  Sure, I’d travelled all over the place in my teens and twenties with a backpack on my back.  Intrepid, stubborn, solo, and full of wonder.  Writing my way through it all.  But it felt like all of that was preparation for the most hair-raising, plot-twisting, heart-warming, soul-feeding work of my life:  raising children.

And I did it.  I did it well.  For twenty-two years.

And here I am.  In a few weeks, my boy will go to college.  My daughter just graduated from college and moved into an apartment in San Francisco.  She’s got a great job, great friends.  He’s got a great roommate and will be living out his dream playing baseball at an institute of higher learning.  I couldn’t be more proud.  We’ll move him in.  My daughter will go back to the city.  I’ll come back here to my house in Montana.  It’ll all be over.  That part.  And I’m afraid of the grief.  I’m not afraid of my future.  I’m just afraid of who I’ll be without them.  Here.  In my empty nest.  In short, this last month has been excruciating.  And I want so deeply to appreciate these last weeks.

This helps:  (maybe it will help you if you are a parent with a child soon leaving…)

So…just like my friend…I anticipated this pain.  About two years ago, I started imagining the next chapter of my life.  The fear of Empty Nest had me by the throat, even then.  But I took my friend’s lead, and my other friend’s comment, and I decided that I was going to grab this next chapter by the ponytail and yank the weeping woman attached to it back out into the world.  To trust-fall into travel and adventure, only as the woman she is now.  Exactly as she is.

So this winter, I’m hitting the road.  I’m going to live my own version of breaking the ice on Antarctica, only for me…it’s with my journal.  I’ve started a new Haven Writing Program:  Haven Wander.  First stop:  Morocco.

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My primary Haven programs  are still here in Montana, and you can bet that I scheduled four of them back-to-back for this fall with the express intention of healing Empty Nest in my own back yard by doing the nurturing work I most love outside my motherhood– helping people to find their voice through the power of the written word.

But for people who are less writing-focused and more travel-focused…I have a new adventure and it utilizes yes, my experience facilitating meaningful small group experiences in the grandeur of the Rockies…but now in exotic places around the globe!

For my first Haven Wander, I found the perfect place and the perfect people to help me plan this remarkable, priceless, uniquely local Haven program, and it lands us in a small village outside of Marrakesh, Morocco.  With the help of these fabulous and inspiring locals, I have spent the last two years putting together a week of intentional wandering around Morocco, using the Haven Wander Portfolio as our guide.  It will be a feast for the senses and soul, and with a component of giving back through Project SOAR, to empower young women in finding their voices.  I’m going first to get the lay of the land, my journal and me, so that I’m rooted and ready when the women join me for our first Haven Wander._MG_2142_20150412

Personally, I do want to see who that stubborn young dreamer was with that backpack on her back, traipsing around the former Yugoslavia and Turkey, and all over Europe in the mid-’80s.  I know she’s still in me and I do want to see what her confidence and curiosity is all about.  And I also want to meet her with the wisdom she’s gathered along the way as a mother and as a woman and an author.  I want to scoop her up and tell her that she doesn’t have to do it alone.  She can do it in the company of kindreds. Because I’m pretty sure that the nest travels with you, wherever you go.  And you don’t have to live it empty.  You can live it with a small group of women who are just as curious and just as hungry for connection with the world outside their front door as you are.  Who long to have their senses activated in a rich and deep way, and who want to learn and fill their souls with powerful and meaningful experiences.

Arabian dining tentI want to sit her down on benches and on Mosque steps and in public gardens and seaside café tables…and ask her to be still.  To watch.  To listen.  To be.  After all, she never had a cell phone.  Or a screen of any kind in that backpack.  She had a journal.  And curiosity.  And courage.  I want to scoop her up and merge with her, and tell her that she becomes a very good mother of exceptional beings who fledge well.  And that she gets to have a new chapter of her life.  And it’s going to be wonderful.

poolSo Haven Wander:  Morocco is hatching this February.  I’m taking seven women on a one week journey of intentional living and being, using writing as our guide.  As for me, I’m going to take the whole month and write my way through this first blush of Empty Nest.  I’m going to start imagining who this next me is.  Who she’s always been and who she became and who she is becoming and will become.

In this next chapter, I want to wander all over the world.  I want to go to places that scare me a little, that feel exotic, and I’m going to do it with these small, temporary communities of women who need this as badly as I do.  The sky is the limit.  Uruguay.  Ethiopia.  Kathmandu.  Thailand.  But first…Morocco.

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Part Two

Before that, though…first and foremost…when I get back home from college drop off, to this empty nest, (and even this Empty Next)…before the back-to-back fall Haven Writing Retreats and Haven Wander:  Morocco…I know I need a very deliberate and very serious pause between chapters.  A full stop to honor it all. 

So I’m borrowing from the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of this tradition of sitting shiva for a week after someone dies.  Of stopping your world and observing the loss and your grief, and the life that has left.  I’m going to have my personal version of it.  But not in uncomfortable chairs.  I need soft pillows for this.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetI’ll light a candle and sit on my screened porch in my favorite chair, and reflect in thought and prayer, and write in my journal.  No TV.  No screens at all.  Just observations of my motherhood and who these children of mine have been:

I’ll sit my personal version of shiva for my babies turned little ones turned big, and my mothering of them.  I’ll sit shiva for all the learning to crawl and learning to walk and learning to speak and running barefoot in the grass and swinging on the swing set and making mudpies.

I’ll sit shiva for piano lessons and guitar lessons and school plays and orchestra concerts and soccer games and track meets and football games and baseball baseball baseball.  I’ll sit shiva for all the birthday balloons on the garden archway and all the streamers taped to the corners of the porch and the dining room and down the banister.

I’ll sit shiva for the pony rides in the front yard and the badminton, and the croquet, and bocce, and backgammon and cards and Farkle and Scrabble on the screened porch by candlelight.  For all the bonfires and marshmallows and star-gazing in sleeping bags on the dewy cool grass.  For every ahhhhh to every shooting star.  And every ooooo to every falling one.

And then, I’ll borrow the rest of this Jewish custom.  On the seventh day, I’ll take a walk around my land, all four corners of my twenty acres, and then return to my front porch to symbolize my return to society.  I may even call my rabbi friend to read these customary words from the Old Testament:

No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end. (Isaiah 60:20)

My kids always say, “Mom.  You walk so confidently without having any idea where you’re going.  You even walk confidently in the wrong direction.”  They’re making fun of me, of course, in their own way.  Millennials.  They’ve never navigated directions without their noses in their GPS screens, robots telling them when and where to turn.  I doubt they really know their right from their left, frankly.

“I know where I’m going,” I tell them.  “Essentially.  I like taking an unexpected turn.  I like asking actual human beings how to get to the train station.  Siri and Uber have done our civilization a grand injustice!  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about the world and humans by asking strangers questions.  And heck, if I really need to be so exact and so punctual, I have my phone, or I can research it prior.  There’s this thing called making plans, you know!”

They part laugh, part roll their eyes.  They don’t seem worried about me in the least, for this next chapter.

“The truth is…I’m sick of racing to get everywhere on time,” I tell them.  “I’m sick of being so responsible.  Of having a life where everything has to be so full and stacked and go go go.  I just need to wander again.  I need to have room in my life to stop when I want to stop.  And sit.  And just…be.  And to do it…in a very meaningful way.”

Their faces fade a bit.  Maybe the way mine did when my friend announced her Antarctica adventure.  They think that it’s nice, their mother wanting to travel in this way.  But probably a bit depressing too.  This gung-ho fling-the-windows-open mother I’ve been, pushing us all out the door on to our next adventure.  They think that maybe I’m…giving up…by wanting to wander so slowly.  Wanting to luxuriate in the senses and in connection with people and place.  That maybe I should go break ice for penguins in Antarctica!

But that’s exactly what I need to do.  Give up.  In the best sense of the phrase.

Give myself to this next chapter.

Let go of the last, onward.  Upward.

There will be that week of sitting with it.  Honoring it.  And I’m sure there will be a lot of tears and nostalgia and wanting it all back, those little ones, that young bright mother.  I’m sure I’ll sit in both of their rooms, bawling my eyes out, rocking in a corner covered in their blankets and pillows and maybe a stuffed animal that made the cut that I’ve dug out of their closet.  I’m sure I’ll be a mess.

But here’s the thing:  I can’t get it back.  It’s not possible.  And I don’t want to be miserable.  This last month, I’ve been miserable, watching the last of everything.  The last graduation.  The last family boat ride of the last summer.  The last bonfire with his buddies.  The last home game.  The last the last the last of this long chapter of our lives.

I want to feel my joy again-- the same joy I felt when they were little and we had a whole day in front of us with so much possibility and learning and wonder.  Wandering in the woods for Calypso orchids and morels.  Singing.  They say it goes so fast.  It didn’t for me.  It went long and to my core, and it makes it hard to remember who I was before it all.  I was a joyful young woman, without children, loving life.  I want her back.

tangineNow I’ll be wandering in spice markets for tangines with a world-renowned chef who will show us how to authentically cook with them.  Wandering in the Secret Garden, learning about the history of tea.  Wandering on the beaches of Essaouira and maybe even riding a camel.  Wandering in the Medina and learning about Moroccan history with a local guide who knows just where to take us so that we can follow and let go and pay attention and let this colorful country give itself to us…writing our way through it all and sharing at the end of the day about it.  And maybe we’ll even get a little lost.  And a lot…found.

Next chapter, please.  Empty NEXT, indeed!

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Now booking the fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! 

From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (two spots left)

Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Come wander in your wonder with me this February in Morocco! To learn more, click here!

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Memorial Day: Remembering Two Lakes and Two Men

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  Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

4:00 am.  Montana.  May.

I awake to a hard rain and a deep longing.  I’ve felt it all day and can’t quite place it.  But the rain drums on the metal roof like it’s my skull, and scares it out:  I have been longing for a lost and very old feeling…of safety.  Of being held.  And I know that I have to listen to the rain on the roof of my longing.

It’s not a rational longing.  I know that I live a life that is for, all intents and purposes, safe.

It’s my heart that forgets.

It happens this time of year when winter so rapidly wakes to the greening and blooming of May.  With the robin eggs hatching and little yellow beaks pointing to the sky– puffed up red-breasted daddies poking at worms for their babies.

It especially happens this weekend, when my son was born and my father died.  Memorial Day weekend.

Remembering hurts and I don’t want it to.  I want it to bring me the solace and salve that their love gave me–my father’s open arms, carrying me up the stairs each night when he came home from work, my son’s eager limbs, letting me carry him until he was too big and a snuggle on the couch sufficed.

I lie in bed at 4:00 am, the dawn-soon birdsongs maybe staved off by the rain, and I wonder:  Where is this heart-safety now?  I can’t see it in my tomorrow—not the way I want to.  I’m losing the people in my house, one by one.  My son is about to go to college.  And soon it’s going to be just me.

I lie here and let the longing out, letting myself imagine what it would take to feel like I did in my father’s arms and with my baby boy before he became big.  When we’d sit on the porch and nurse, while the robins fed their babies.  I lie here and let myself want that tender pause time, where I felt tucked in to the promise of those particular loving arms.

But I have to feel it.  Not just long for it.  It’s still in me.  It must be.

Now the rain bats, adamant, and I reel through the places of my life, trying to land on that warm, cared-for, safe feeling.  To use this tender time between consciousness and sleep to re-create it, and let it lullaby me through ‘til morning.

And I land.  I land on lake.  Two lakes.  Two men.  One me.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Trout Lake.  Wisconsin.

Here, I am baby, child, little sister.  Here I am safe from suburban swimming pool rules and an un-swimmable 1970s Lake Michigan.  Here I dare the cold clean Wisconsin water, staring into it, pretending that it is thick glass, that I am that brave, that powerful, that in need of this particular water.

I’m not scared.  This isn’t a swimming lesson and there’s no winning or losing.  I pray my hands water-ward and go with a grin, slicing through, cast in Muskie-kissed water.  I float down until my hands lay flat on the sandy bottom.  Here I am lake baby, invisible now to my other self as long as I can hold my breath from leaking tattletale air bubbles, listening to the zing of the ski boats on the other side of the swimming ropes.

I like the sound of ski boats in my ears.  It’s the day’s Reveille to the night’s loon Taps.  You can’t have one without the other, as far as I know.  But I don’t think a lot here.

Here I pick up lapped-at stones along the lake shore, but not forget-me-nots.  I have a pact with them:  If I don’t pick them, they will remember this me, while I am back doing suburban Chicago things.

While the others nap, I sit on the screened porch and polish the rocks with Baby Oil so they look wet again– amber, sienna, umber marbles.

Dad comes in to admire my collection.  “I think it’s even better than last year’s.”

“Will you make sand castles with me now?”

He puts on his excited face, and I can tell that he only pretends to like making sand castles, but I can also tell that he loves how I want him to play with me.  That he longs for it.  Always this pressing, this knowing, that this is all so fleeting, fifty years my senior.  Maybe I make him feel as safe as he makes me feel.

“Carry me!” I beg, and he puts on the same pair of Ray Ban aviators he’s worn since World War II and hoists me up to his sunburned shoulders.  He smells like Sea and Ski, not like newspaper and the Chicago Loop.  He warns of rogue tree roots.  Leeches.  Black bears.  But we both know that this place is safe in all the ways that count.

We walk toward the lake, looking for chipmunks as we go, and he tells me stories of the one chipmunk who is always here, all winter when the cabins are empty, and screened doors don’t slap.  This one chipmunk who knows my heart and who knows me, and who will look over the little polished rock cairn that we leave under the cabin before climbing back into the station wagon for home.  This creature will keep my wonder safe and my father will remind me of it at bedtime, every night until we are back.  But we both know that it’s my father who holds my wonder.

On Memorial Day in 2004, I am standing at the end of his bed.  I hold his feet while he takes his last breath after 86 good years.  My son is four.  We go to the lake after that.  It’s been a long time.  No rocks under the cabin.  The forget-me-nots help.

073db487f4c4c2354d17ccad8d24eb24Whitefish Lake.  Montana. 

Here I am mother.  Here I am teaching the littlest of two children to dive from the dock.  He doesn’t want to point his hands to the glacial Montana lake.  He wants to do 360 Moonshine and mid-air Karate kicks and see how big the splash.  He wants to do it again.  And again.  And again.  He wants to see how long he can hold his breath underwater, but he is anything but invisible.  There is no suburb to wash off of him.  He lives here.  His screened porch door slaps all year long.

He collects stones too.  Flat ones to fling across the water and see how many times it will touch before it falls, counting the ripples.

“Watch, Mom,” he says, not caring if I do.  But I always do, and he knows it.

“Sixteen times!  You have one heck of an arm, son!”

He beams and I grab him and hold him to my hot summer skin.

“1…2…3…,” he shouts and takes my hand and we jump in the lake together.  And for a moment I lose him, and then I feel his arms under me, and his extraordinary face emerges.  “Look!  I can carry you!”

Don’t forget this, I think.  Do NOT forget this.  And I let him swim me to shore.

“When you get big, do you promise that you will still let me play with you?  And hug you?  And that we’ll swim in the lake together?”

“Of course, Mom.  Of course!”

And I can’t help but think:  He looks just like my father.

5:00 am.  Montana.  The first birds.  Robins.

He’s graduating next week.  And then he’s leaving for college September 1st.  There’ll be a lot of baseball through to August and for the next four years.  Leftie pitcher.  Heck of an arm.

I lie in bed, tears melting into my pillow.  But I’m smiling too, remembering.  I have held and been held.  I feel it, lying here.  And I wonder:  can I feel held by myself?  That’s what I truly long for.  That’s what I truly want to feel.

I decide that this year when the robins leave their nest on the porch lantern behind, I will take it and place it on my mantle.  I won’t fill it with anything.  Instead, I’ll study its woven grasses and mud, moss and twigs.  I’ll study the holding.  It’s my turn.

With so many of you enjoying Memorial Day, likely at lakes and on bodies of water across the country, I hope that you will let yourself feel held by the waters of your heart, where you can always find loving arms.  Your own.

Love,

Laura

Come write with me on Lake Superior this July at the Madeline School for the Arts!

This program will be very different from my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana.  For more info, 

Click here ! 

MISA

 

 

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