Category Archives: My Posts

A Voice in the Fire

Clear skies in Montana...

Clear skies in Montana…

In this age of social media, so much time is being spent making people right or wrong. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in education. And I need to learn about forest fires. Fire season is here.It’s early June and we’ve already had smoke in the air in NW, Montana. Fires are raging in Alberta, Canada and smoke has been reported in North Dakota, Minnesota, Chicago, Nebraska, and all the way to Vermont. USA today reported that smoke from these fires is currently covering 2.7 million square miles of North America and has even made its way over to England! The smoke came in, reminded us of the suffering, and then moved out.

More and more, it’s not if it comes back…it’s when. Living in the woods for 27 years, in a wooden house, means that the first tinge of smoke in the air during fire season brings with it a mild case of panic. Shut the windows. Is it close by? Man-caused? Natural? Will it last all summer? Should I pack a bag of essentials? Put together my most special keepsakes somewhere near the door? And just what are those special items, anyway? The kids’ photo albums? The family videos? My 1st edition book collection? My first attempts at writing books, and my journals since 4th grade, all stacked up in my office closet? When I think of it like that, I get so overwhelmed that I decide that I would leave it all behind if need be. Escape with my life and my dogs and whatever clothes I’m wearing on my back, which means likely an old shirt and a holey pair of yoga pants.

But this isn’t dramatic thinking anymore, is it. Our nation watched as firestorms took miles of California to char in the last few years. I’ve driven through Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, and it was like Armageddon. Houses just torched with nothing left but twisted metal, like sinister sculptures. In Montana, we lose structures every year. We lost our beloved Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park a few summers ago. But we sort of know…when we build in the woods, it’s a risk, not that it’s anything less than gutting to lose your beloved home. However, when people are evacuating their homes on the ocean in Malibu…that feels like a different story. Any loss is relative to the person who has suffered it. But when 295,000 people are evacuated (the Woolsley Fire), and 1,643 structures are lost, 96,949 acres are burned, lives are lost, and who knows how many domestic and wild animals are killed…we start to wonder what is “normal” anymore.

AND we start to wonder who the people are who sign up to fight these firestorms. AND what we can do to protect ourselves. I don’t want my daily coming and going conversations to start with the effects of climate change. But here we are. I don’t know the answer. I hear people make significant points on many sides of the issue: to do controlled burns, or not. How to manage the forest. Like I said, I’m not looking at trying to make anyone right or wrong. I’m looking for education.

To that end, I recently was introduced to Linda Strader, who started fighting fires in the 1970s, and I was intrigued by her story, especially as a woman. Her book Summers of Fires is a testament to her knowledge, her strength, her love of the woods. So I asked her if we could do a Question and Answer for my blog. She agreed. And here it is. May it provide helpful information about how to do your best in facing the reality of wildfires, and may it also inspire you to follow your passion, especially if it goes against the norm.

1.  Why did you decide to enter the world of firefighting, especially at a time when women were not welcome?

Well, certainly not because I wanted to prove anything to me, or to men! In a way, the job found me.

It was a cross-country move from Syracuse, NY to Prescott, AZ when I was 17 that set it all in motion. I didn’t want to move, especially in my senior year of high school, but I had no choice.

Although I’d hated Prescott at first, it grew on me. I loved living in a ponderosa pine forest where I could go exploring, hiking, and camping. But this was a very small town, and job opportunities were few and far between. After a year of trying to find decent employment, I reluctantly admitted I’d have to look elsewhere. The job search expanded to Tucson, where an acquaintance called me with a lead. She had connections with the U.S. Forest Service, and got me an interview the very next day.

And they hired me! I’d be working at Palisades Ranger Station on the Coronado National Forest. And unlike most office jobs, I’d be living and working among pines, and wouldn’t have to deal with traffic, noise, and congestion.

However, after two summers up there, I decided I hated working indoors. The Forest Service had many outdoor options: fire crew, fire prevention technician, recreation crew, and fire lookout. Way more interesting than sitting at a desk all day.

That winter I applied to the Forest Service. And what do you know? The Coronado National Forest called me in April of 1976 to offer a position on a fire suppression crew. And there you have it: I was now officially a firefighter.

2.  Obviously firefighting is challenging work. What kind of challenges did you face from the men on your crew? Were they supportive, or dismissive?

I wasn’t stupid. I knew the job would be hard work. But I was up to it. I’d be fine. And I was, as far as the physical labor went. However, everything was not ‘fine’ with the guys on my crew. Some said to my face that I didn’t belong there, and one said that I should quit and go home. While these comments hurt, some were absurd, like the guy who said the dreaded, “Women belong barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen” line. To be fair, not all of the men treated me that way. Some were supportive, at least to the extent that they could be, considering the agency itself didn’t want to employ women.

Despite these hassles, I loved this job to the point that no matter how hard men made it for me, I refused to give up.

3.  Some prescribed burns get horribly out of hand. Were you ever involved in these? And how do you feel about prescribed burning?

Prescribed burning is a technique used to reduce the risk of massive, uncontrollable fires, by thinning dense trees and undergrowth—something naturally-caused fire used to do before we started putting them all out. It can work. But the reality is that it’s very difficult to control fire. The success, or failure, of prescribed burning depends 100% on Mother Nature. Try as experts might, predicting the weather is almost impossible. Winds can kick-up unexpectedly, leading to those fire disasters that make news headlines.

Prescribed burning was part of my job. After thinning trees, we stacked them into piles. We burned these at night, when winds are calmer and humidity is higher, making it easier to keep them contained. It’s hard, dirty work.

Is prescribed burning successful? Without getting into the lengthy history of fire suppression and the difficulty of reversing what has been done, I believe thinning and prescribed burns are a critical component to help reduce the risk of a major fire.

4.  In your book, you tell about building firelines to get a fire under control. Can this technique be used by homeowners as a way to protect their homes?

The purpose of a fireline is to prevent a fire from spreading by removing all flammables (leaves, pine needles and the duff underneath) down to bare mineral soil, and cutting back any overhanging limbs. Homeowners can protect their houses by doing much the same thing. It is recommended that you remove all dead plants, grass and weeds from around the structure, and remove dry leaves and pine needles from the yard, roof, and rain gutters. You should also trim trees so they don’t overhang your roof, or touch other trees in the yard. And don’t store firewood against the house.

5.  You fought fires in semi-desert grasslands, and pine forests. And you even put out a tundra fire in Alaska. Which is your most memorable fire?

While it wasn’t the biggest or scariest fire I’d ever fought, I would have to say my first one. Training did not prepare me for the real thing: The sense of urgency, my scrambling through dense forest and over steep terrain, the thick smoke, the intense heat, the roar of flames…me, in the middle of a wildfire, trying to save the trees. Something about the ‘wildness’ of it all is unforgettable.

6.  Fires are much bigger now than they were in the past, and threaten more than just timber. What are your thoughts as to why? What are your thoughts about how to prevent fires from becoming megafires?

It’s complicated. Over one hundred years of fire suppression have left our forests too thick for their own good. When a fire does start, dense undergrowth makes for a hotter and more dangerous fire. It is impossible to control a wind-driven crown fire. Then there is the Western drought. Drought-stressed trees attract the pine bark beetle, die, and leave acres of dry, dead trees. Add to that the increasingly problematic Wildland Urban Interface, where homes are built either on the edges of forests, or in them. Those factors all contribute to a more dire fire situation than in prior years.

As for actually preventing megafires, I’ve always thought that backing-off from one hundred years of fire suppression would not be easy, and may not even be possible. I heard one fire expert say that megafires are here to stay…at least for a while. He suggested better forest management, including more thinning and more prescribed burns, are important steps. While this is not what people want to hear, I agree with his assessment. There just isn’t a simple solution to a very complex problem.

Thank you, Linda for your words, and thank you, readers for following along as we educate ourselves and make powerful, informed decisions, wherever we are in our lives.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Ms. Strader moved to Prescott, Arizona with her family in 1972. In 1976, she became one of the first women on a U.S. Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love and Courage is her first book, released on May 1st, 2018 by Bedazzled Ink Publishing. In September, she became a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. She is currently working on a prequel.
Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Do you long to find your voice? Do you need to take a big bold beautiful stand for your self-expression? Come to Haven this fall and fill your cup.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats
Fall2019

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

Go here for more info and email Laura to set up a phone call.  laura@lauramunson.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Not Hate Writing an “About Me” Page…

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There is something that has been on my list for a month, and every time it finds its way to the top, it gets somehow pushed back into the mix. Okay…fine. I somehow bury it. Maybe you can relate. It’s the About Me section for my new website, and my Author Bio for my novel coming out next year—basically the same thing: capturing the essence of who I am and what I have done that might be of value to people. And let me tell you: It’s excruciating. I feel like I’m being dragged by my hair into a final exam that will determine whether or not I graduate from college for a class I didn’t take. And it’s like…Abstract Algebra, or Calculus V. Something I did not take in college.

I’ve been in full avoidance of this like I’ve never quite seen in myself. Case in point: I’m writing this instead of writing it. I mean, what do people want to know about me? That I’ve written over twenty books, and a bunch of them are even good? And that I plan to publish those books one day. That I turned down the Oprah Winfrey show not once but twice, and it was one of my dreams in life to go on that show and be in the presence of that goddess. It’s a long story– a story too long for an About Me page. But geez—that’s something I’d want to read about if I followed a writer with that story. Or maybe people want to know that I’ve been highly identified with the word vulnerability and also the word empathy since I was in high school. I used to say, “I don’t want to be friends with you unless you are willing to be vulnerable.” That made me really popular. It was before vulnerability was in. (Thanks, Brene Brown—who definitely has gone on the Oprah show!) What else? That Empty Nest has been hard for me blah blah blah. My kids are doing great. I have a roof over my head, and a lovely one at that, though there is a leak in the garage that I need to get fixed. Riveting content. Are you fascinated yet? And while we’re on the subject, why should you even care about me in the first place? Bleck.

The truth is, I just wasn’t raised to talk about my accolades, and chances are…you weren’t either. I was raised in the seen-but-not-heard, speak-when-spoken-to, don’t-show-off camp. I think that’s why I became a writer. I could put it all down on a page where it would safely live. I still have every single journal I’ve ever written in, probably as some sort of a constant witness of a life well-lived, deeply felt, wonderfully (and yes woefully) wondered. It’s no mistake then, that I’ve made a career out of creating a safe place for people to do the same. I mean, just those three words: Haven Writing Retreat could be the long and short of my About Me. With the words “I seek” before each one.

Just what is it that belongs in an About Me section or a Bio that doesn’t make its author feel like she or he needs to take a shower after writing it, much less putting it out there for people to love or hate, or scrutinize, or slice and dice? Or ignore?

I was sitting on my front porch yesterday with a marketing whiz and a recent alum of one of my Haven programs, here for a Writer-in-Residence. I consider both of them friends and am mesmerized by their elegant minds. So I mentioned my current “plight.” They both groaned. Turns out, I’m not alone. With ricochet-speed, we ping-ponged our identical feelings from Adirondack chair to Adirondack chair. How difficult it is to find the right distillation of words to depict our essential selves. How hard it is to give ourselves permission to “toot our own horn.” For other people? “No problem,” we agreed. “I can see your brilliance so clearly. I know just the words I’d choose for your About Me page or your Bio.” But for ours? Torture.

As I watched their minds think-tanking through those trenches, this is what I gleaned: to write anything that authentically depicts yourself…in these days of glossy brands and what my literary hero Jim Harrison called “the cult of the personality,” you need to use heart language. Your truth. And that in and of itself, can be a tall order. No one majors in Truth in college, though it’s at the base of absolutely everything in the end. But we learn that later on if we learn it at all. Growing up, we all-too-often learn instead how to jump through hoops and grab onto brass rings to get our A+. I feel like I have devoted my life to helping people find their truth by using the power of the written word. I can teach it just fine. So why is it so hard to write these freaking About Me and Bio pages? I can write a memoir or personal essay no problem. Probably because there’s a narrative to unravel. Stories are my comfort zone. Resumes…are not.

Tick tock. Deadline is getting closer and closer and I am still so far away. Maybe I’ll re-arrange my junk drawer after I finish this…

My Attempt at a Solution:

How about we look at it a little differently? How about we make a new sort of list of criteria for what belongs in an About Me or Bio? (And I like writing lists and bullet-points about as much as I do an About Me or Bio, so even this is gonna be difficult. But I’m going to give it a whirl for you and for me. It’s time to have a little conversation with myself.)

  • Let’s start with this idea of giving ourselves permission. Sometimes that works for me. I give myself permission to buy that special and not-cheap bottle of Domaine Tempier rose`, for instance. Not a gimme. But do-able. I give myself permission to adopt two sweet adorable unconditionally-loving English Cream golden retrievers. Done done done. I give myself permission to sip on a glass of Domaine Tempier rose` on my front porch with two goldens at my feet, watching the rain on the lily of the valleys and lilacs. There are certain permission slips that are easier than others. But I give myself permission to write about my accolades and what makes me me? Uhhhh.
  • Let’s look at it like this instead: You don’t have to give yourself permission to share your essence. If you are writing an About Me or a Bio, you already have given yourself permission to be exactly who you are. You can skip that step.
  • Perhaps the next step is to accept who you are already being.
  • As for finding the words…choose what is obvious about you that might not be obvious to other people because they haven’t wandered around in your shoes. They can’t know what you know. All you have to do is let them in. Think of it as an invitation.
  • And it doesn’t have to be everything about you. Just a handful of things that you want people to know that might help them get the hang of how you show up in the world.
  • And why not have it be easy?
  • Easy? F*** me! This is one of the hardest things I can imagine writing. I’d rather write four novels than this stupid About Me and Bio. Deep breath. I don’t mean that it has to be easy easy. I mean that there can be ease to it. Flow. In other words…try not to be anyone on that page that is anyone other than you.
  • In fact, stop trying. Just write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. You have lived a remarkable life. You have. Stop saying that you haven’t, or that someone else’s life is more remarkable so why should I even have an About Me page in the first place. I mean…I’m not Oprah. Or Brene. But I sure would like to have lunch with them. You are who you are. What is something that you can tell me about yourself that might inspire me to feel like I want to have lunch with you!
  • Relax. This isn’t finals week. You don’t have to do any research. You’ve already lived whatever there is to include on these pages. And you probably haven’t won a Pulitzer. Yet. That’s okay. Chances are, neither has anyone else who is reading your About Me page.
  • Just lay it all out there like a deck of cards and pick the ones that are calling to you. Maybe it’s something that wouldn’t have gotten you an A+ but maybe it’s the old moth-eaten sweater that you always go to over the new one you got for your birthday.
  • Pick the ones that feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable in your words, your reader will too. (And that goes for all of your writing. I’m not saying: avoid conflict. I’m saying: go into the heart of conflict. You really like that sweater even though it doesn’t smell so great! But now we’re on a 5 day retreat. Let’s get back to front porch wisdom.)
  • But I’m 52 years old. I’ve done a lot of stuff, and a lot of what I consider to be my great successes were very hard won. Should I include all of it? I feel like I’m being remiss if I leave out any of it! I mean…I did end up going on ‘Good Morning America’ and being interviewed by a former press secretary! My ego kinda wants that one in there. But heck—I don’t know. I’m more proud of those unpublished books. Can I mention them???
  • Think bridges. Ask yourself: What might bridge my life experience to my reader?
  • What is something that you have lived which might help others to know that they’re not alone? (That was the #1 thing that I heard over and over after my memoir came out. “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”)
  • Let yourself shine in the way that only you can. And it doesn’t have to be Fourth of July bedazzling fireworks. It can be a small, abiding flame. My grandmother used to sing me a bedtime song with these words in it: “In this world of darkness we must shine. You in your small corner, and I in mine.” Beauty is in the small things as much as it is in the grandiose.
  • No one has your story. No one. Even if you share the same accolade, no one has quite shown up like you have. Own it.
  • You can list your accolade, but perhaps you want to include a few words along with it that show us something about the experience. (ie: Had the stomach flu on my 1st book’s pub day, in a mid-town Manhattan hotel—a writer’s ego never gets to explode.)
  • But be careful: (and this one is so important, especially for women): You do not have to be self-deprecating to justify your accolades! You worked hard for them. Again, own it. (Yeah you had the stomach flu, but the book landed on the freaking ‘New York Times’ best-seller list!)
  • In the interest of time, I’m going to stop here. But a word for us all from my front porch: Be kind to yourself, please. You are a miraculous creature no matter what you put on those pages. You have done your work and you have done it well. Settle into kindness and care and respect for yourself, and you will find the true words. They’re in you, I promise.

P.S. Can I just use the following as my About Me and Bio

Laura Munson lives in an empty-nested farmhouse in Montana with two recently adopted dogs so it’s suddenly full again and she’s happy about that. And she writes a lot and brings people together to write a lot too. And those people are really happy when they’re here. And she loves her work as a mother (even though it’s not daily anymore), and a teacher (surprise chapter!), and a writer (her life’s love, outside of motherhood). Unless she has to write an About Me or Bio. So there. Please read my stuff. I write it to help us know that we’re not alone. Myself included. Here’s the bridge. Meet me half way. K?

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019!

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

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 here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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Inside Out and Backwards

 

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For the last few months I have been putting on my clothes…wait for it: not just backwards, but inside out too. Backwards and inside out. Over and over again. What’s that about? Is it the disorientation of Empty Nest? Is it a mourning period after a one month high of solo travel in Morocco? Is it that I’m alone for the first time in my LIFE on a consistent basis?

Whatever it is, I finally decided that I just don’t want to be without dogs. I’ve never not had a dog or two, and after my old girl passed a few years ago, I decided to let the life drain out of this house, one creature at a time. As much as I wanted to jump back into having a dog, I wanted to see who I was without one, in preparation for my last child to leave for college. I wanted to remind myself that I’m never alone as long as there are birds and deer and bugs and frogs at play in the woods around my home. I wanted my intimacy to be with wild creatures, and I wanted to finally learn the bird songs that I’ve loved for 27 years here in Montana. I’ve known the characters in the symphony, just not what sound they make. Well not all of them. Like…I’ve never known what a sparrow sounds like. Or a junco. Or a pine sisken. Just robins and eagles and hawks and anyway…  Inside out and backwards.

So for the last few years, I’ve walked quickly past dogs, past community bulletin boards advertising puppies, past the pound and the Humane Society, past “I have a friend with a great rescue dog she’s trying to find a home for and I know your place would perfect.” No No No. As much as I longed to say yes, I said on repeat, “I cannot fall in love one more time with anything with a beating heart until I figure out how to care for my own.”

I tried to be happy without a creature in my home. Really. I did. Therapy, yoga, journaling, reading, making lovely dinners for myself, and my contemplative practices. But I like to be in a pack. That’s my truth. And so…one night, with total intention and “flow,” much the way I started Haven Writing Retreats, I put on Facebook: “Hey—anyone know of a dog that needs a home in the Flathead Valley?” I got some leads and soon I was on RezQ looking at three legged dogs that answer to the name of Lucky and I was ready to head over the Continental Divide to scoop up a pit bull/white shepherd blend and make their hearts find home in the way I need mine to. I even said to my daughter, “I’m not getting some pure bred dog. The best dogs I’ve had are rescued mutts.”

And lo, ten minutes later, I’m on the phone with a local friend who tips me off to two English Cream Golden Retrievers from Ukraine who have been show dogs for two years, and now they’re here to breed and find a forever home, and they need what’s called a “Guardian.”

“Uh. I was looking for a rescue dog.”

Turns out that they are a part of a very special program which lets them carry on the excellence of their breed, but also lets them be pets. And it’s all done in Montana with an exceptional breeder who finds only the best homes for them, and always has the best interest of the dogs in mind. Nutrition, exercise, deep committed love, all of it.

Huh.

My mind went in circles: I mean, somebody’s got to be at the top of the breed with integrity, we hope, yes? To protect from over-breeding and puppy mills and the cancer and hip dysplasia and on and on that is a result of greed versus integrity. And this breeder has an undying commitment to these creatures…and these dogs need a home and I have the perfect arrangement for them. And I know my way around adopting dogs which are projects, and these most certainly need a very sensitive dog owner who can help them acclimate from the show ring to the woods of Montana and the few litters they are hoped to have in the next few years. And once they’re done breeding, they are spayed and then…they’re mine for good.

Still, I was conflicted.

Until I met them.

Gorgeous and Beluga-whale-white as they are…they don’t know what they look like, or what their pedigree is. They want what we all want, and it was woven into every fiber of their beings:  to love and be loved. Period. And I can give them that. Whether they’re expensive show dogs, or mutts. We’re all the same. I know this well after being raised in a shiny place and having lived in Montana for 27 years, which sometimes isn’t so shiny, depending on how you define that word. We’ll romp in the woods and swim in the lakes and rivers and we’ll be creatures together, in a pack. And I’m sure, that one of these days, we’ll add a rescue mutt to the mix, because that’s the way I fly.

They came home two days ago, these girls. They are scared, and they are grateful, and so willing to learn and love and be loved. Their instincts are being activated and it’s so beautiful to see! A stick? I want to grab it in my mouth and prance around with it and hope that you will throw it for me. And I’ll chase after it and bring it back to you. A pond? I want to plop my belly into its cool water and then I want to swim in it. Maybe not in that order. I don’t know. I’ve never wanted for water like this.

They are coming fully into themselves, and my instincts are too. I’m happy right now. In a way that I haven’t been happy, outside of my work and my month in Morocco, in a long while. The dark cloud has lifted. I have friends to play with and who want to be with me and who want to walk in the woods. It’s a happy little pack, we three.

So forcing yourself to be alone in order to fully love yourself? I don’t think I agree with that philosophy.  Or maybe I’m just too terrified to be by myself. Who knows and who cares. Because in the last two days, I have taken at least a 30 minute walk every two hours. I’ve spoken in calming tones and stopped my work day again and again to sit with these creatures, and as we say in Montana “love on them.” I’ve stared at trees and loving dog eyes instead of a computer screen. I feel better. I’ve re-acquainted myself with my land again. I’ve sat on a lot of stumps in the woods and listened to bird songs and taught two dogs who likely were raised in kennels what it is to learn the wisdom of the woods. And yes, how to sit, fetch, drop…but with sticks and antlers that they pick up, as they nose around in the trees in this new place called Montana, and find themselves.

Inside out and backwards? Well I bet they feel that way too. But we’re putting ourselves back together—together and making ourselves new. And I’m going to call that good. Maybe we’re all, in our own way, a three legged dog that answers to the name of Lucky.

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Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019! 

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

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 here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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How to Find YOU in Empty Nest

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You know when you run a life marathon, and it’s over? And you’re lying in your bed staring at the ceiling wondering how to stop running? That’s where I am. Right now. It started with the moon last night, like a clementine section moving from window pane to window pane. And then with the first bird, calling me out of Mother’s Day and reminding me that they’re doing the nesting now, not me. And perhaps that’s why I signed up for the marathon. To fill up my life so that I wouldn’t have to sit in my empty nest, alone.

My marathon went like this: a month in Morocco, traveling solo after consciously uncoupling with my beloved partner (sigh), leading a Haven Writing Retreat at the end, returning home, beginning the final editing process on my novel with my editor, leading a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, preparing for Haven II– my advanced workshop for Haven Alums writing books which requires hours and hours of editing, leading Haven II, editing the final copy of my novel (coming out in March 2020—a very old dream), leading one day workshops in the homes of Haven alums in Minneapolis, leading another Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, and coming home to an empty house on Mother’s Day, Skyping with my kids, mother, and sister, and then lying in the sun listening to my Haven Muse Music list on Spotify all afternoon. And I’ll admit it, crying myself to sleep. Until I woke at 4:00 am. Then lay awake until now.

I cried because it is such an honor to be a holder of sacred space for people. I cried because I can hardly believe that this is where my life has landed, doing this work, and I can’t imagine my life without it. I cried because I am alone and miss the daily-ness of life with the people I have loved in this house, and yet I cried in gratitude knowing I am so not alone. I cried because while so much of my life is about creating temporary community now, that feeds people’s souls in ways that blow my mind every time, at the end…they leave. That’s the way it works. Just like the act of daily motherhood. It ends. I cried because I have spent six years with the four women in my novel and they have to leave too. They are real to me and I don’t want to let them go. It’s become the theme of my life: building community, and letting it go. And I need a flipside. I need a community that stays, and one that I’m not in charge of.

But where to begin?  My place in this town has always had to do with my kids and serving their pursuits and the institutions and people who serve them. Where is my place here now? I know so many of us are asking this question, especially as single mothers in empty nest. How do we do this new chapter of our lives? I know this for sure:  We shouldn’t rush it. We need to go slowly. And carefully.

So right now, it’s the Moroccan prayer rugs that bedeck the rooms of my house, the poppies, peonies, lupine, columbine, forget-me-nots, lily of the valley that are re-emerging from my garden soil, the nesting birds in their full-blown springtime purpose. The white-tailed deer in the tall grass at the edge of my lawn each morning when I open my door, that startle but that don’t run. The frogs in the marsh at dusk when I close my door to the first star. The spiders that spin in my windows and drop from my ceilings. The mice I hear in my walls, but lately don’t want to catch.

When I am not holding circles of women on retreat from their lives, full-freefalling into their beautifully unique voices, this slice of Montana is my current community now. And it’s a sacred one, though so so different from how it has been. I have to find out who I am with these empty rooms, and the same piece of lint on the laundry room floor as yesterday. The tea bag in the sink from this morning. The water bottle still on the porch from last week. Things have slowed to an almost standstill in my personal world—from not just my recent marathon, but a twenty-five-year-long marathon…to a full-stop—and I have to learn to be content with that.

That said, I need my own circle of connection. And, Steven Colbert and James Corden, as much as I adore you…you don’t count. Social media does feel like community in some generous and inspiring ways. But I need actual bodies to interact with. Causes to champion. In-between-time talks like I used to have in the parking lot with mothers and fathers after we dropped our kids off to school or after a board meeting. “Hey, want to grab a cup of tea?” “How about a walk?” That doesn’t happen sitting on your front porch listening to frogs.

Mine is a little universe that needs to expand in new ways. So, first step, and yes slowly…in a few days, after two brutal years of life without canine companions, I’m adopting two big dogs. It’s time. The dogs will bring me off the porch and into the woods, but also to the dog park, and the Whitefish Trails, full of people and animals interacting. They’ll bring new energy into the house, and since they’re adopted, it’s likely that they’ll bring with them a very special brand of gratitude, like the other adopted dogs I’ve had over the years. The last thing these dogs have to do is move on. And the one thing they both will want to feel, is safe and happy in their new pack. Like me. New chapters for all three of us.

And then, after that, it’s time to step back into my community. One foot at a time. But it can’t be just because I fear being alone, or need to feel purposeful. It has to be intentional and sustainable. It’s not about my kids any more. It’s about me and my gifts and how I can give back. And here’s the big one: how I receive. Someone asked me recently: “Do you know how to receive without giving?” It was a damn good question. “I’m not sure,” I said. “I haven’t had a lot of practice.” Maybe it’s that I haven’t created ways to practice.

But either way, giving and receiving require stepping outside of my comfort zone and consciously connecting. It means reading the local newspaper and stopping at community bulletin boards in the café and grocery store. It means showing up at fund-raisers and events and having conversations with the local movers and shakers and decision-makers and inspirers, and probably joining a non-profit board…but it means not filling my life to the gills so that I don’t keep anything for myself. Which means it’s important to create sacred space to be just me in my new life, in communion with self. Not running a marathon, but lying on the prayer rugs with two big dogs. And staring at the ceiling. But not sadly. Instead, full in the best way, having given and received and having been led…and maybe leading too.

I have no idea what my new place will be, and who will be in it. But I’m ready for it. To give to it. And to receive from it. Thank you, in advance to whatever and whoever you are. Let’s have a blast! But not a marathon, please.

Now Booking our fall 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. (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…

 

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Mother’s Day

(as featured on BlogHer)

Give your mother, your daughter, yourSELF the gift of  a Haven Writing Retreat!  

Now Booking my fall retreats: 

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

The other day I was wondering about my great-grandmother and the land she came to Illinois to Homestead with her husband and eight kids.  I have a photograph of the family in my office, all seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug.  Mid 1800s.  She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass kicking.  If not, she’d just turn her boney Yankee shoulder to you and you would understand for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of disdain.  I wanted to know about my mothers. Especially this one.  I wanted to know what she was like outside this photo.  If she had a soft side.  I was wondering about the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont.  If she ever looked back.  And I was wondering about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana a hundred and fifty plus years later, along with a caned birds-eye maple chair…and if she’d like me to use them more often, or take care of them differently, or better yet, I wanted to know the story about them.  How she chose what she chose to make her covered wagon crossing from Vermont to Illinois.  I was wondering how I can serve her memory.  Mostly, I was wondering if I have her in me.  If I can look at my life like chapters instead of a tower of blocks that add up to some sort of art in the end.

So I called my mother.

My father is dead. This was his side of the family.  But my mother is the sort of person to marry it all—not just the man.  I’ve traipsed through cemeteries all over New England and Illinois with my mother in search of my ancestors’ resting places on both sides of the family.  She calls us “cemetery people.”  I never knew what that meant.  Now, in middle age, I think I do.  It means that we hold our deceased in story and artifacts and we don’t let them go.  We firmly believe that we need them.  We believe that they are in our lives holding us from a mystic zone that might be called Heaven.  (We are also Heaven people.)  My mother actually prays for our deceased ones.  And asks them to protect us.  Like we go God both ways.

“They left in a covered wagon for central Illinois because the land was rich and they didn’t rotate their crops in Vermont so the soil wasn’t any good,” she rattles off like a memorized soliloquy from the phone between bridge and altar guild.  “I have some of their letters if you want me to Xerox them and send them to you.”

And suddenly I am in a panic.  She’s in her 80s.  She’s vibrant and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore.

“They thought I could do no wrong.”

Suddenly, I am imagining that day for myself and I dread it.  It will be a claustrophobic feeling:  I need my mother.  She’s not here.  There is quite possibly no one who has the answer to my question left on earth.  There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little story or my little panic or my little woe.  Who do I call?  A friend?  It would sound too needy or too braggadocio.  A child?  Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.  After your parents pass…who is strong for you?

I called her the other day to find out about my great-grandmother, and ended up learning all about my mother.  I asked her questions instead of just monologuing about my life and my victories and problems.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall hotel.  “The Water Tower.  I believed it was my fairy princess castle.”  There is a newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline.  “Virginia Aldrich has the City of Chicago in the palm of her hand.”  I always loved that my mother was such a beauty.  I haven’t told her that.  There is so much I haven’t told her.  (And I have to add here that when I asked her to send me a photo of her as a young woman…without letting her know what it was for…on top of the fact that she was packing to go to a fundrasier in Washington, she sent me this LOVELY photo of herself.  She is so loyal that she took the time in her nightie which you can see reflected, to do this for me, having no idea what I’m up to.  You can see it in the reflection and that is such a metaphor for who she is to me.  May we all have mothers like this.  Busy, in our nighties, who pull through in the eleventh hour for our daughters and sons…)

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.

I love that you are a flirt.

I love that you have a big laugh.

I love that you love to skip.  I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.

That’s Mom in the bottom left!

I love that you love Gran Marnier soufflé.

I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.

I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in Guys and Dolls and The Fantastiks.  That would
not have happened without you.  Dad wouldn’t have made that effort.

I love that you always make the effort.

I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.

I love that you read every single thing I write and I love knowing that you will read this.

I love that you told me to go to Italy for my junior year in college instead of Vienna.  I loved that you cried about it, knowing what cloth I am cut from.

I love that you go to church.  That you value community service and volunteer endlessly.

I love that you have your own business and are good at what you do.

I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.

I love that you don’t watch a lot of TV.

I love that you are a good friend to many.

I love that you aren’t wasteful.

I love that every single time I call you, and ask what you are doing, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing.  Which is always a lot.

I love that you don’t “sit around and eat bon bons all day” and never would.

I love that you made us read aloud a Bible passage every night at dinner.

I love that you made us say Grace.

I love that you made us wear shoes at the table and learn where all the utensils are supposed to go and to say, “are you finished” instead of “are you done” and taught us to Remove from the right and Serve to the left.

I love that you made us take piano lessons.

I love that you were never late.  Never.  I am usually five minutes late.

I love that you sang to me and read me stories when I was little.

Where all the snapdragons and pansies and pink roses grew.

I love that you had me take horse-back riding lessons but told me that it would be too pressured a life if I got into competing in the horse world.  You were right.  I was not cut out for that kind of pressure.

I love that you framed my childhood art.

I love that you love pink roses and snapdragons and yellow pansies.  I love that you made little arrangements of them and put them on my bedside table.

I love that for someone who sure does know a lot of influential people, you aren’t a snob.

I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2017 that you wore in 1950.

I love that you love yourself.

I love that you love me.

At my hometown book signing– look how happy we are. Wow.

What a class act.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 6

Haven Spring Blog Series

A note from Laura:

Thank you to all of the brave Haven Writing Retreat alums who have shared their heart language here in these past weeks!  I hope that their stories of using writing as living have inspired you to do the same!  The best way I know for you to find your own heart language…is for you to come to Montana and experience the gift that they gave themselves!  Please enjoy our last Haven Spring Blog Series post which shows that ultimately it is up to ourselves to take a stand for our creative self-expression.  If you would like more information about how to find your voice, in the way that these writers did, there are links and testimonials at the end of this lovely piece.  I’m now booking for my September retreats!  Thank you for following along in our blog series. 

Yours,

Laura

Katherine Cox Stevenson - My Secret Writing Cabin

Pulling over, I glanced in the rear-view mirror to make sure my husband hadn’t followed me, another new activity. I managed to get out of the house with my regular, “Off to run errands. See you later.” This was met with silence or, “Who cares,” or, “Ok honey. Have a nice time.” My husband’s behavior changed like flipping on a switch. I walked on egg shells for years as he experienced cognitive decline. He had no insight. In the early days, I tried talking to him about changes, and his response was always, “You are making this all up because you are an RN and have some kind of ulterior motive.” We were talking major changes like when he grabbed me as I came into the bedroom. Eyes flashing, jaw set, urgent whisper, “Look!?! A severed leg!!” It was clothes on the bed.

I lied to my husband. I wasn’t heading out to run errands, instead escaping to my tiny secretly-rented writing cabin, a gift to me three or four afternoons a week. Writing in journals has been part of my life since childhood, on and off. Mostly off as I immersed myself in endless education. However, as soon as my husband’s illness started, I turned to writing words on pages. I am confident writing saved my life all those years. Without it, my name would have been added to the all-too-common statistic of care-givers dying first.

My husband rarely went out and did nothing except sleep, read, and stick to me like glue when he wasn’t giving me the silent treatment. A total personality and behavioral change from the man I married just nine years prior. I wrote in my home office but felt like a caged animal and one afternoon called a realtor from my car.

“I need to find a private place to write. Do you know of anyone who has space for rent?”

Within two hours, I held shiny keys for a furnished writing cabin in the woods. Nestled away, not visible from the road, full of peace, calm, and safety. None of which existed at home. I kept the cabin a secret and no one was ever there with me. Why? Because I needed something just for me. Writing in that cabin was literally an act of living when everything around me was disintegrating – my husband’s brain, our marriage, friends gone, no one believing me.

Haven SubmissionNot seeing my husband behind me, I pulled into the gravel driveway. Climbing two stairs, a “welcome” mat at the door. Welcome to this writing sanctuary where I lost myself in words, in creativity. Writing was a guide to try and make sense of the hellish life I lived. Putting pen to paper and/or fingers to the key board, I explored, found answers, vented, kept records, and managed to keep sane. Everything of my life outside that cabin was insane.

That February afternoon, the sun shone brightly in the one room kitchenette and living area. The soft cream colors of the walls and furnishings were refreshing in my otherwise way over stimulated life. Dropping my computer case on the chair, I opened the glass door to enjoy the large fir and cedar trees and was delighted to see numerous song birds at my recent gifts of seed and suet.

The air was fresh and after returning inside, I made tea and arranged writing materials. Lovely bound journals, colorful pens, and lap top on my beloved small wood writing desk under a large window. As soon as I sat, tears streamed followed soon by chest heaving sobs. At my writing cabin, pent up grief spouted out like winter rain mountain runoffs.

Once that energy was expended, I lit a candle and always started with what I labeled, “Daily log” – detailed notes on my husband’s condition, “Last evening he threw my suitcase over the fence.” Then it was my time for writing – a memoir, my journal, and trusting the process of what wanted to make its way to the page. Time flew and soon I needed to leave. Couldn’t I just stay there? Please?

Our tiny island is so small the drive home took about eight minutes. Girding my loins, as was my new normal, I walked into our little blue house overlooking the Salish Sea. My husband didn’t look up from reading. I slowly approached the couch offering greetings. He raised his head and there was the familiar look of disdain, “Where the hell do you go during afternoons!?”

Thank you, Katherine.  I’m so glad you found your own personal haven in that little cottage.  

For those of you who would like to find your haven…come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…

You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (one more spot)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thingBut on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 5

Haven Spring Blog Series

Colleen Brennan - December, Hill City, Idaho

I am kicking at chunks of snow outside an abandoned saloon/store on Hwy. 20 in Hill City, Idaho. With peeling paint and boarded-up windows, the building offers the empty promise of beer and wine, restrooms, local honey, and gifts. A truck sits dormant behind the saloon, enshrined in a foot of crusty snow that dazzles so brightly it hurts my eyes.

I stare at the sun and when I look away, my sunglass-covered eyes picture large pee-colored circles everywhere I gaze. Judging by the burning sensation in my nostrils, I figure the temperature must be in the single digits. It hurts to breathe.

But I can’t get back in my car. Not yet. My heart is still beating too rapidly and even though it may be only 8 degrees outside, I’m sweating on the inside.

I live in southwest Idaho, and I’m driving to the east side of the state to stay for a few days with a man I began to love eight months ago.

My 1999 Camry has kept me safe, for as many years, on dozens of solo road trips (including one to Whitefish, Montana, that changed my life). I have been forced to the side of the road just now, not by an angry trucker or a herd of migrating elk but by the feeling that I would start hyperventilating if I didn’t stop and pay attention to my accelerating pulse, sweaty lower back, and muddled thinking. As I spritz my tongue with Rescue Remedy, I try to imagine a soft periwinkle light radiating warmth and enveloping me in calmness.

What’s going to happen to me now, at this point in my life, if I can’t even drive for four hours alone without feeling like I’m going to die?

When I told my dad about the panic attacks that set in just before my birthday, he said, “Next time, call me. I’ll talk you down.”

I would, if I could, call him right now. But I have no cell reception out here in the shadow of the Soldier Mountains, and Hill City – much less a city than an empty roadside saloon – offers no wifi either.

The shadows of the saloon cast a blue-gray light that stretches out like a yawn along the frozen ground. What’s left of the paint on the building is a sickly yellow jaundice, the color of my insides.

Wide tire tracks leave a herringbone pattern at my feet. I’d like to knit this pattern into a sweater, so I take a photo with my phone. Two different tire tracks intersect, forming a V. The track on the left resembles a diagonal line of seagulls, wings held frozen on the up-stroke. The track on the right mimics sandpiper feet, minus one toe.

Hill City_ColleenBrennanThe word integument comes to mind, and I try to write it in a notebook I carry in the little compartment between the front seats of my car. I’ve discovered that it helps to write things down when I find myself in the midst of what feels like a complete break with reality. Language is my savior; writing, my guide.

The cold air is preventing the ink in my pen from transferring to the paper in my notebook, so I climb into the back seat of my car and begin to wonder, in writing, why the word integument has popped up in my addled brain. It’s a covering, isn’t it? A layer that shields a vulnerable organ. Like feathers protecting bird wings.

Is that what anxiety is? The envelope that protects a person from getting hurt?

I’m thinking, I still have the Craters of the Moon to drive through, the vast lava rock fields surrounding the black asphalt on the eastern section of Hwy. 20. The blackness makes it tough to navigate after sundown, even without an out-of-whack limbic system.

But, for now, I don’t think about the dark stretch of road ahead of me. Instead, I follow the movement of pen over paper and marvel at the healing, protective power it provides.

Christine Lazorishak - Just Another Year

I needed 2018 to be a good year, but my intuition told me something bad was going to happen.    At 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I woke drenched in sweat with my heart hammering. A tingling sensation started in my left arm and trickled down my leg.  Numbness spread up my face, as if injected with novocaine. The odd sensations swept up and down, while my brain imagined the worst.  Scared I was having a stroke, I woke my husband.

“It’s probably your anxiety,” Brian muttered, reminding me of previous panic attacks.  He sounded like all the doctors I had been to over the years.

“Not everything is caused by anxiety,” I snapped.

familyhugQI2A5222-36I didn’t have a stroke, and stress did appear to be the culprit.  It made sense, 2017 was a rough year of loss and health issues for our oldest daughter.  We decided a trip for spring break was just what we all needed. A respite from the harsh Montana winter might help and give us time to reconnect with our two girls.

We had gone to Maui two years before, over Thanksgiving break.  It was blissful – culminating in a vow renewal on the beach at sunset to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We wrote our own vows. I wore a gown the color of blush pink peonies, the girls cornflower blue. It was the wedding of my dreams.  We couldn’t wait to go back.

The tension released from my neck when we landed.  Our first days were spent with our feet in the sand, eating good food and whale watching.  We made plans to hike down to the Olivine Pools. We read about them in a popular tourist book; they were a must-see.

The view over the Pacific was dizzying, the path down a jagged, rocky descent.   The girls ran ahead.  I was distracted by the memorial of a child who died there and wanted to read every word.  Brian was getting impatient; the girls had not waited. I wanted him to yell for them to slow down.  He wanted me to hurry up. Time moved slowly, as we hiked down. Once at the bottom, I barely had time to catch my breath before our oldest, had stripped down to her swimsuit and wandered towards the ocean.  One minute she was there; the next she was washed away by a rogue wave.

“In the blink of an eye” is not just a saying.  She was screaming “help” and “I’m sorry.” Brian was running through the rocky pools.  The sound of the waves slamming against the rocks filled my ears. With another blink, he disappeared.  Leaving my youngest behind, I stumbled to the edge of the pools. Looking down over the rocky edge, I could see them in the turquoise water, waves crashing and swirling.  I was scared I could be swept away, too. I knelt next to a man who threw an orange towel to my daughter. Using all his strength, Brian pushed her towards the towel.  She fought against the current nearing it, while the undertow dragged him away.

“You’re a strong swimmer, keep kicking,” I yelled to my daughter.  The man threw the towel again. She grabbed it and he pulled. A wave washed her close enough to grab an arm.  Together, we yanked her, battered and bloody, over the rocks and to safety. When we all looked back to the turbulent ocean, Brian was no longer swimming.  I can still hear my own screams. What followed only happens in movies. It is a movie that my daughters and I now have on perpetual replay, even though we never speak of it.

I always believed I would be the first to go.  I was the one with health issues and anxiety, and worried constantly.  Brian came from tough Ukrainian stock and rarely went to the doctor. I always envied his “worry about it when it happens” philosophy.  I wanted his wiring. He kept me in check. With or without premonitions, the unthinkable can still happen.  No amount of worry could’ve prevented this.  Now, I try to listen for his words to guide me and strive to live in the moment.  Sometimes I hear whispers that all will be ok.

It’s a new year, 2019.  I crawl under the sheets, pull the comforter to my chin and wait for the dog to settle, like I do most nights.  He lets out a long sigh, and so do I. Another day is over, another year gone.  I look to my nightstand where Brian’s picture stands, and see that charming smirk and dimple.  Maybe he’s trying to be funny, laughing at me or thinking he loves me. Either way, I kiss that picture good night, wishing I could say “I love you” one last time.

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 4

Haven Spring Blog Series

Erika Putnam - The Last and Best Chapter

As I creep up one stair after another in my slippers I can feel the gradual rise in temperature from the warmth of last night’s fire. From the kitchen window I see the pasture below is glistening with fresh snow lit by what’s left of the moon. That means my morning routine will change from meditation, to the sound of my shovel scraping rhythmically across the deck. Before I venture out to breath natures chill I stoke the embers in the wood stove and brew a fresh cup of coffee. The routine itself is the companion I have crafted to allow a shift from the life I had to the one I want.

A bit chilled, I settle into the left side of the love seat and pull my coffee cup close. A new flame flickers in the fireplace and casts an eerie light on one half of the face of the Dall sheep mount perched above me. It’s before dawn and the Montana mountains are sleeping in the distance. The tall pines envelop my cabin from all sides and offer me the secluded privacy that gives my thoughts the space they need before I commit them to the page.

I have been writing a book for 8 years, and the ending has eluded me. Before the idea solidifies it evaporates like morning fog. Some things can’t be forced! At long last, a concept has emerged from the shadows of my spirit. The ending has needed the last two seasons of bear grass, huckleberries, and golden birch leaves to infuse what was then with what is now. Living here with nature’s raw edges has roused my desire to let go of a long lost love. My resistance has softened and the last and best chapter has condensed into a solid vision.

I am eager to pick up where I left off and open the Word file titled “Book Edits.” I am surprised to see I haven’t opened this file for almost two years. With a wince, I open chapter 3 and begin to read.

IMG_5314I loved my husband but our home life was making us both miserable.  It was 2010. The economy was assaulting our investments and we were both failing step-parenting.  To cope I buried myself in my computer with my mouth shut. He had withdrawn into guilt, shame and fear. Our battleground was set.  We were not talking. Not talking leads to fanaticizing about things being different, which leads to obsessive thinking about a way out. Which leads to looking deeper for the truth about what I really wanted if I would get really honest with myself. I started writing a lot, looking for answers, waiting for my heart to speak up and speak up loudly.

One night I couldn’t sleep. Despite my insomnia, I was more willing to spend time with my computer than I was lying awake in flannel sheets of sorrow.  It was two AM and I had perched myself on the leopard skin fainting couch and tucked myself into a writing nest with a blanket. My heart was as frayed as the grey sweatshirt I was wearing.

I was writing because I was searching for answers. I was giving myself permission to trust my truth. I was frightened to be completely honest but I had a desire and passion to find clarity. My motives were good. I meant no harm.  My truth in this moment did not exclude my love for my husband or our marriage. What I was writing was not meant to be time stamped forever. My thoughts had been fleeting and irrational. I was writing to discover my intention as a way of self-exploration without confinement.  I wanted to stop my own suffering.

I heard him roll out of bed. The bedroom door opened and my husband walked past me to the kitchen. He didn’t reach to brush my shoulder or kiss my head or even peak at my computer screen. I know he wasn’t thirsty, he was checking on me. He asked “what are you doing?”

I was cheating.  I was cheating on him.  I was writing, and it was about a man of my past. The one that got away, long, long ago.  I looked up, said “writing” and looked back down at my computer. I felt like shit.

My husband wandered back to bed but left the tension in the air.  The words started spilling onto the page.

Painfully, I recall that moment. I absorb the words and look outside to the gently falling snow. At last, the ending of that story makes sense. Moving on has closed the chapter of past suffering. Now, my fireplace has become a friend, my dog a companion, a sheep a reminder of my perseverance and winter the inspiration to finish eight seasons of waiting. I take a deep breath and begin typing the ending.

The story flows out and the sun comes up.  I reach over to my dog, Zen, and rub her soft copper ears and say “Hey beautiful girl, writing time is over, let’s get to work.”  I add a log to the fire and feel the deep understanding that my last chapter is now becoming my first.

Cynthia Urquhart - Those Words

It has always bothered me how my notes, words that I choose, cold and professional, would be the only vessel used to capture the circumstances of tragic incidents.

I reached for the little black notebook in my uniform pocket. For a fleeting moment, I tried to think about how many of them I might have filled, during my many years of policing, but lost the thought as I heard the ambulance pull away. The bright moon gave off enough light for me to write and with pen in hand, I was finally able to record the details of the night’s tragic accident.

I looked at the wreckage again, making sure my notes would be accurate.

Writing is something I do, all police officers do, every shift, in all kinds of circumstances.  My words flow easily, as they do at every incident, but they are harsh, empty, and detached. Businesslike with lists, descriptions and facts. I am used to it…well, I tell myself I am. I start writing: time, date, place. Information that is straightforward, rote and methodical. Head on collision, thrown from vehicle, one dead, two injured.  Disturbing, but manageable.  Names, dates of birth, next of kin make it real.  What I don’t write is this:  Anguish.  Their anguish, or mine.

I hate that words like grief and sorrow and despair are kept locked inside me by policies and procedures. No notations, no references, no freedom to be me, no place for my heartache in my notebook. How I want to release my pain. My sorrow. Words. Inside my head, they form, they flash, they bounce, searching for a way out. Looking for validation. I see them. I feel them. I fight them every day and every night. Until I can’t.

Same time, different day. I opened my eyes, panicked, turning towards the dimly-lit clock on my bedside table. I had been waking up at night for months, my therapist stating this was normal for someone suffering with PTSD. She said my brain was trying to process the years of buried trauma, that I was fighting it and that it would take some time. I often wondered how long “some time” might be, considering I had been in treatment for 2 years. I shifted my eyes to the journal sitting on the bedside table, purchased over 3 weeks ago, never opened, nothing to write. Or so I thought.

I stared ahead into the blackness, feeling a little more awake, but something wasn’t right. I could see the words. They were black, illuminated in white, in my head. Words like urgent and dread, calls, cold and cries. There were so many and they kept coming.

My panic rose and nothing made sense. I need to get up, I thought, and as I did, my eyes caught the journal and pen again. I wondered if I wrote the words down, got them out of my head, then maybe they might go away.

I grabbed the pen, picked up the journal, and opened its cover. I can’t explain what happened next, nor for the next 20 minutes to be exact, but I can say that the pen wouldn’t stop.  The words flowed like water from a tap and revealed the stories from my world. The pain lay on the paper like shattered glass. Pieces of it here and there, big and small, sharp and jagged.

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. My mind was blank. The words were gone.

What just happened?

I sat there for a minute, turned on my reading light, grabbed my glasses, and began reading.

The call came in, I filled with dread

Who would be the next one dead

A child, a man, the dog next door

Cause someone needed to settle a score

There were words of sadness and pain, anguish and hurt.

The dispatcher said the news is bad

A child is screaming, she’s lost her Dad

She’s all alone, just 12 years old

She says his skin is growing cold

Memories I had buried so deep.

I walk to her, I hold her tight

I tell her it will be alright

My tear slips out, then two then three

The grief engulfs the whole of me  

Those words made me see my pain and feel the hurt. Those words, in that instant, changed my life. I had fought against all of it for so long. Words, writing, stories and emotion. I smiled as my tears began to flow, thinking how ironic life could be. Words…the very thing that had closed me up and shut me down were now setting me free… .

 

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thingBut on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 3

Haven Spring Blog Series

Lauren Plunkett - Winter Wonderland

Seriously, could it get any colder?! I prefer not to go outside from November through March in this frozen northland but I must. I arrive at work, stuffed into my heavy jacket like a Christmas box sent from Grandma. I peel off jacket number one to allow four inches of impenetrable cotton and Lycra to breathe. My look today is hardly office attire unless clocking in somewhere in the Himalayas but do I care? Not today, winter. Thankfully, my office is tucked away from the majority of the inhabitants in this shared space of white walls.

Some may say that the view from my fourth-floor office window is Minnesota lovely if gazing through sideways sleet upon leafless trees and salt covered side-streets that sideline the highway, is your thing. My entertainment today will be the sound of kissing bumpers and I’m confident the screeching will begin soon. First comes brakes, then comes smashing, then comes the lanes of traffic parked in an orderly fashion. How delightful. I chuckle realizing there’s a worse place be.

In winter, just when you think your dues have been paid a costly opportunity comes knocking uninvited, like Uncle Eddie. I choked my chuckle back remembering that last year a driver poorly attempted to parallel park and rammed my car so hard it was lifted from the street. Right now, the last thing I need is someone tossing salt into my already sour mood. Snap out of it! Watch the sleet, take off a layer, and sit down.

I gaze longingly outside my office window hoping the scene will miraculously change into a perfect picture of sparkling sunshine that makes me sweat just looking at it. I want to feel the sun burning my skin and hot on my wavy hair. When I close my eyes I can feel a hot ray on my face and catch a waft of sweet coconut oil. My heart knows that paradise can be found in a shot of vitamin D chased with a gin and tonic. For just a few blissful seconds I’m taken away from this frigid desk where I’m frozen in thought. I’m one layer less and thawed out now but my winter boots are buried in the sand.

winterThe sands of time say wake up from your daydream and be an adult. You worked hard to sit at this desk and you better learn to love it. I’ve already whimpered away the entire morning but lo and behold excitement has come my way. LUNCH!

It’s time to walk it off and wake up my hands and feet from self-pity and lack of circulation. The temperature outside is sub-zero but the feeling inside this office is as cold and dark as a starless night’s sky in the dead of winter. My headphones have been fixed to my ears all day to protect the innocent victims I will make if provoked to speak. Therefore, I put pen to paper and begin to furiously write, which becomes the solution to keeping my big trap shut.

I write because I’m angry with what I cannot control. The sleet, the freeze, this office of discontent. I wish I could make this my happy place but I am but a single snowflake melting on the surface. There may as well be smoke and flames coming off my pen as I write as fast as possible to keep up with my mind firing anger-bombs that cannot be allowed to escape my lips.

We, mortals, cannot control the passing of time and the patterns of weather. Both of these things are getting the best of me at the moment so I write to take control of my emotions. I thank these crisp blank pages that allow me to purge words that don’t have meaning. I don’t understand why I have to write but I do it and it’s right and true. I have so much to say but where do I put all my words and who on earth would want to read them?

Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight another person that’s as miserable as I am might be writing to escape, just like I am. Maybe they write to save themselves from being judged or misunderstood. Maybe one day we’ll read each other’s words and be bound by a hatred of sleet and love of heat.

The lunch buzz has worn off and time has melted away. The temperature has dropped a few more degrees and the sleet has turned to ice. I bundle my layers, belt my heavy jacket, cover my face so just my eyes show and prepare to face my four block walk on a snowy sidewalk. The sun never came, but at least it’s happy hour and I have several freshly inked pages to show for a productive day on the job.

Laura Di Franco

“Come with me,” I pleaded, “It will be fun.”

“Not my thing,” he said. And the conversation ended. I sat on my unmade bed with the faded white down comforter half on and half off me and frowned. The rejection sat in the middle of my chest, like it had for decades. I brought my palm up to rub out the pain.

Fuck this, I thought, I’m not doing this again. I’m not going to let someone else’s no mean so much this time.

But it did. I did, let it mean something. I let it mean I was unworthy and unlovable. Then I remembered who I was and jumped off the bed, slid my new Ugg slippers the kids gave me for Christmas over my cold toes and headed down the hallway to my refuge.

The notebook was where I left it last, sitting on the special shelf in the kitchen I’d created for my collection; all different colors, shapes and sizes, some with sparkles and some more bland. I grabbed at the last one I’d started writing in and shuffled for a blank page, excited, ready to heal something.

My breath was deep and slow and relief fell through my chest and arms deep into my heart. My soul breathed with me and the words came:

I think I was once

so used to

the sadness and pain of rejection

I didn’t notice how tightly

the shrink-wrap molded

and melted

and burned

into the crevices of my heart.

Like a straight jacket

if you wear it too long

you learn to breathe shallowly

and survive.

You figure out how to live

and move

with the restrictions.

I finally allowed myself to feel

the crushing pressure,

smell the charred flesh,

notice my soul gasping

under the clench.

Today I know it will never be something

I give myself permission to get used to again.

But I had to feel it to enjoy that power.

I had to recognize the subtle

quiet

suffocating

infection

so I could know the slightest attempt

at a future attack

and swiftly step up to love myself

so fiercely

the light of my own essence

would shine on rejection

and the truth would show through…

I’m enough.

And I’ve always been that.

I titled my poem I’ve Always Been That. Many of my poems seem to end with the title. There’s something I like about that. A feeling it gives me. The tightness in me eases. The bigger thing takes over and it knows. The relief is palpable. The poem heals me.

I can hear him in the hallway bedroom. The door is closed. I slowly turn the handle, open the door a crack and poke just my head in to find him hypnotized by the game on his big-screen.

“Okay I’m going to go. I’ll see you when I get home,” I say a little easier than I expected.

“Okay,” he says.

And I go. And it’s okay that I go by myself. Like really okay this time. Going alone doesn’t mean I’m a loser. It doesn’t mean anything more than I make it mean.

I walked back to the kitchen where I’d left the pages of my notebook open, pen resting in the middle crack, and read my poem once more. And a smile came.

I’m enough.

And I’ve always been that.

 

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 2

Haven Spring Blog Series

Stephanie Rumold

I walked out of the bunkhouse and felt the smile move through my body.  I love this place, I thought, inhaling the cool, crisp air, its healing tendrils stretching through me.  It wasn’t just the air, or the sunlight peeking through the trees, or the mist left from the rain that morning which gave the air its heaviness, or even the tender care of the Dancing Spirit Ranch team.  It was the writing. I had all the space I needed to write at this writing retreat.

I feel more me, than I remember being.  The thought jumped into my mind, making my smile widen and my brow furrow at the same time.

Looking back, I see both the truth of this statement and the strangeness of it.  How can I be less me?

Well, thank you for asking.

Apparently, I can be less me by turning pieces of me off, which is what I did many years ago.  Had you asked me in my teens and even into my early 20’s what I really, really, really wanted to be, I would have told you:  I want to be a writer.  And, looking back with the perspective of a woman in her 40’s, I will admit, I wanted it a lot.

As a very practical person by nature, this was not the career path I pursued.  In fact, I didn’t even let myself write for fun after college. Journaling, sure, but making stories up in my head?  Creating dialogue? Letting my imagination out on paper? ‘To what end?’ my logical mind asked.

So, here I sit, in a posture abandoned in my 20’s, as well, my knees tucked under my butt, leaning over the table and writing about a time I left a piece of me behind and my journey to reclaim it.  That journey started seven months prior, as I was sitting with 200+ strangers at a creativity workshop led by two writers that I admire.

We were halfway through the second day of the workshop when I scrawled a question into my journal, “Are you a writer or not?”  The letters were small and illegible, as if I worried that someone would pick up the journal and read the question later and scoff.  Moments earlier, it had dawned on one of the leaders of the workshop to pose the following of her audience, “This was billed as a creativity workshop.  And, all we’ve had you do is write. I’m wondering, how many of you are not writers?”  She paused for a quick tally and observed, “Ok, about half.”

Since I did not raise my hand, I was feeling rather proud of myself.  I did not identify as “not a writer.” Maybe, in some deep dark place in my soul, I knew I am a writer!  The chills hadn’t even made their way from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes before she followed her question up with, “Ok, how many of you are writers?”

It was here that the bitchy side of myself mentally shouted at her, Hello?  Half! I know you are an artist, but come on, lady!  This is easy math. If there are two choices and half of the group is one thing, the other half is clearly the other!!

And, yet, I didn’t raise my hand here, either.  So, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid question after all.

It’s funny how life can change based on a stranger asking a question to 200 people that seems to be meant just for you.  Are you a writer or not, Stephanie? So, here I find myself a year later still trying to own this orphaned piece. Still trying to say “yes” when someone asks me, are you a writer?  I’m getting better at it. That piece is growing and getting stronger. Maybe at one time it was like that little plant growing in the fridge in the movie, Wall-E. But now, it’s more like a small garden, growing in an atrium.  One day, if I continue to care for it, it might turn into something mesmerizing and powerful like a rain forest.

Because going on a writing retreat helped it grow and reintroduced me to the feeling of knowing myself.  Going on a writing retreat gave me permission. Permission to use writing to process grief. Permission to escape into the world of my book.  Permission to write poetry. Permission to try and fail. Permission to try and succeed. Permission to be a writer, and, thus, permission to take back this piece that makes me feel more me…than I remembered being.

More Me:

Writing Daily.

Working through grief.

Brainstorming, creating.

An extraordinary relief.

Giddiness, my story.

Crackling energy.

More me than ever

I remember being

Nicole A Grant – Writing Truth

“I’m home!”

I make my way to the living room. He has planted himself in the same usual corner of the crimson L-shaped sofa. The television, to my left, would under usual circumstances be tuned into some political talk show, but now stands eerily silent; his cellphone lies face down on the glass-topped coffee table in front of him, an island between us. His attention is single-pointedly affixed in this moment to the screen of his laptop, perched on his knees, a physical blockade; and he holds in his right hand his glass of Pinot noir, an accomplice. My senses heightened, I can almost taste the sweet, oak-wood smell from the way he is swirling his wine, the rest of him moored, immovable as a mountain.

There is a studied perfection to his whole demeanor that makes my hair stand on end. “What is it? What?” I demand. The nervous energy is like a zone of high-tension voltage wires. He says nothing. He doesn’t even look up from the screen on his lap. This lack of basic courtesy irritates me to no end, the way he just ignores me like that, no acknowledgment. The swirling wine and silence are deafening and I so want to say something to mitigate my own discomfort (and irritation), but remain statue-like and dumb. The way he has barricaded himself into a corner with his strategic placement of technological and alcoholic defenses says everything I need to know really, and I know this beyond the level of platitudes at which we have been surviving for far too long now.

I will him to say something, but still he baits me with his silence. My hoarse indignation mounts. For too long I have been striving for answers to questions I don’t know to ask; I have thought myself a fool or crazy for all the confusion I have felt; and the worst of it, I have become this person I don’t want to be because of him, prying, snooping, spying. STOP! I scream inside. I…Just… Want…To…Know. The only certainty I have is that my mind misleads me and cannot be trusted. He looks over at the dark television screen, and I can almost perceive his ruby-red thoughts swirling in synergy with his wine.

Here’s the thing: Alone night-after-night in the queen-sized bed meant for two, the discontent, and more recently, the sheer torment I feel in my relationship to him flow onto the pages of my spiral-bound notebook—I have more than one which tells you something right there. In the dark hours of so many pre-dawn mornings, I take refuge in the all-encompassing silence and the fragrant comfort of coffee and, instead of my allotted meditation practice, allow a waterfall of words to pour from my pen.  While my heart splinters, my soul speaks to the page of the very things my eyes cannot see and my mind cannot explain. These words that I have written know the empirical truth, but my mind cannot separate fact from fiction. The brain is always lying it seems, or just plain wrong, but I have an overarching awareness of the truth and, conversely, of my complacency behind not wanting it.

The lack of peaceful coexistence between my wise intuition and my naïve ignorance alerts me to this inner conflict that has the texture of sandpaper and the astringent taste of unsweetened black tea. The fact of the matter is that knowing-for-sure means I’d have to make a decision about what to do, about what comes next. I don’t want to be charged with these decisions; there are children involved, and doing something other than everything else I have already tried means tearing their world (and mine) apart at the seams. What I want is for all of this to go away.

He is speaking now, but my mind cannot process fast enough what my soul already knows. Everything I had construed to be real and true and solid falls away. Yet, in the midst of this, there is absurd relief in knowing that I was led astray by his concoction of mistruths, intentional omissions and unscrupulous deflections, and that I am in fact not crazy or insane; there is absurd relief in not having to participate any longer in this sham of falsehoods and fiction this so-called marriage has become; and there is absurd relief in the fierceness of the fury I feel at having been sucked into this deception and run around in circles like a horse on a tether. I beg for just the smallest of excuses to unleash this smoldering Me-ness that would burn holes through my pages.

And realize, Here I am. I’ve come home.

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)
If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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