A Gift for You: let’s write our way through this

wellness

I went out to the front porch today, feeling so low. Worrying about the things that we’re all worrying about right now. Trying not to worry. Trying to focus on one breath after the next. Trying to feel my inner light. But still feeling darkness. Wanting to look into eyes, real eyes, of dear friends and family and neighbors, and also of people in India and Nigeria and all the faraway places who are worrying about exactly what I’m worrying about, and not just love and death—the usuals. But this stealth virus which has stopped the world. It was eerily quiet, the way Montana can be in winter, but not in springtime. And I went back inside, back to my bed, where I’ve been self-quarantining for almost a month.

My father always said, “People are the same everywhere.” I’ve made it one of my life’s central goals to see that this is true. I’ve said that you don’t have to look very far. It’s the guy helping you find fresh mint in the produce section. It’s the crossing guard and the way she looks at children as she’s holding up her sign. It’s the view through a window of someone looking through a window. I miss people. But I don’t want to have to turn on the news to see them. The images are too much. Not because it’s bloody gore like war as we’ve known it. But because there’s no visible enemy and so much pain and sickness and loss. It helps to look into an enemy’s eyes. To wonder how we are the same. To practice on those eyes– our love and our empathy, and yes our fear and anger. This one has no eyes.

We are all in our respective rooms, globally, wondering what comes next and if we have any power right now. I won’t list the myriad ways this virus is affecting our lives because it is too overwhelming and never have I felt how important one inhale, followed by one exhale, is…not for just sustenance, but for calm. I have never valued calm before. Not like this. I have valued creativity, and creativity values thought, and thought is dangerous right now because it goes too quickly into the future. And all the unknowns. Even writing this right now feels dangerous. And writing has never felt dangerous to me. The only writing that’s been coming out of me in these weeks has been very short phrases about very small things. Not ideas. Things. The holy mundane. I need to get back to journaling. I need to get back to that practice which I’ve lately abandoned for fear of my own thoughts.

It has been weeks of snow showers and rain showers. I’ve watched it through my bedroom window. I have been sleeping a lot, which isn’t always safe ground. Historically, my dreams are full of saving people from burning houses that I don’t even know but somehow I am responsible for them. All too often my dreams are full of total world upheaval with images that are so terrifying and exacting that I wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding, gasping for air. I don’t watch or read anything about the end of the world, as a rule. I know that my mind is too active and I don’t want to be scared or to put darkness into the world, even in my sleep. And yet it oozes into my dreams no matter how calm and settled I am before I shut my eyes. It’s been this way for years.

But lately, I have been dreaming of my deceased family members. We are walking in the radiant sunshine, everything bright green and sapphire blue and lit from within– and all of them so calm and joyful like nothing bad is happening in the world and nothing ever has and ever will. They are so totally free from fear, that I hardly recognize them. I come from people who worry. There is no worry. Their faces are soft and relaxed. Their bodies are easily taking step after step through sunny meadows and dappled forests. They say “Don’t worry. Everything is okay.” They say, “All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.”

I wake feeling so calm, breathing so easily and slowly. I’ve asked my friends if they have been having these dreams. It turns out that a lot of people are dreaming about their peaceful deceased loved ones right now. I guess it doesn’t surprise me. I figure, either they’re angels coming in to help us during this terrifying time. Or our subconscious doesn’t have room for nightmares, life being what it is. Carl Jung would know. All I know is that I need these dreams. I need my elders and their calm. They soothe my soul while I dream, and help me feel less isolated and worried when I wake. I open my eyes and I feel like it’s Christmas morning and everyone’s there and I am little and I am safe and the grown-ups aren’t going anywhere all day and everybody is going to be nice to each other. I get to sit in so many laps and no one’s going to make me take a nap or leave me to play alone so that they can do grown-up things. This day is like one big long hug.

But then consciousness takes over and all the habitual just-waking thoughts rush in: What day is it? Am I supposed to be somewhere? Am I late, am I prepared? And then I remember the calm from the dream and my loved-one’s gentle voices, “All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.” My mind has a fight in it: How do I make a living being still? But like my grandmother’s veiny, translucent, soft hand rests itself on mine, I have this overwhelming understanding that we must honor the feral fact that the world has stopped. And let the lessons come. We must learn these lessons.

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to stop for a long time. Just take some time to myself. To write. To be quiet. To be responsible for only me. But I’ve wracked my brain: How can I stop if the world keeps hammering away? Plus, that’s selfish anyway. The poet Rilke chooses these words to describe the practice of love in a relationship with oneself and others: hearkening and hammering. He means listening, noticing, allowing your senses to be open, and he means hard work on the self and hard work in the relationship. Maybe this is a time to create much space for hearkening. Because humanity can’t not hammer. We will hammer again. So lying in bed, I decide to let all of my thoughts of the future, all of my plans I’ve been hammering away at for years…suspend themselves in springtime sounds and senses. I decide that the hammering I do will be in what love I can give freely to help myself and others. I decide to let go of the future and to embrace this world event from my own small room in Montana. There is so much relief there that I catch myself smiling at the ceiling.

As with most of these days of snow and rain showers, it stops by late afternoon, and the sun comes out. I have been ignoring the sun’s call to come out and bask in it, instead trying to pick up the pieces, the shrapnel, from how this war has affected my life, as we are all doing right now. Trying to put the pieces back together into something that was or something new. Pivoting. Re-inventing. But my deceased loved ones are asking me to be still right now. For a time. Be still. Hearken.

So when the sun came out today, I went out to my porch and sat on the front stoop with a wool shawl wrapped around me up to my chin, and a thick blanket covering my legs and feet. And I closed my eyes and felt each breath, in and out, the sun on my face, warm and tingling, each breath, the gentle breeze, such fresh air. I sat there for a long time. Not sure how long, but long enough for the sun to move through trees and me to move to different places on my porch to stay in its glow. I felt still. And I felt happy. Moving with the sun, breath by breath.

Life reduced itself to one small gift for the senses after the next, but not too fast. Just in perfect time, by a perfect slow metronome.

The musky smell of my neighbors’ sheep riding the breeze through the woods.

A raven just overhead—the heft of the air in its glistening underwings.

A chickadee singing its spring my tree in a river birch, standing bastion after wintering over when most other songbirds leave.

But this…this…this was what I’ve missed. And I wouldn’t have heard it, felt it, looked into the eyes of it, if I hadn’t gone outside and sat down for a while in the sun.

I heard someone pounding a nail. It came across the valley and hit up against the ridge behind my house, and showered down on me in echo.

Someone is building something.

Someone has plans that they haven’t abandoned.

Or maybe they had a dream that they’d put away for a time. And now they’re dreaming it alive.

Someone is creating something.

Someone believes in the future.

So I came in. And I wrote this because I want you to hear the echo of that one hammer, on that one nail.

“All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.”

I’m going to add two more words, “And help.”

In this time of hearkening, and a different kind of hammering—maybe not at the rate we were before, but one nail by one nail…I feel that it is important to hearken for what we can give in the most simple way, from our most pure heart and skillset, to help others. I know that writing is a deeply powerful tool. I know how to use it in my life as a practice, a prayer, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life. I have said for years, “Writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.” We need to be writing, whether we are writers or not. We all have this tool. We know how to put our thoughts into words on a page. All we need is a pen, some paper, and an open heart. And our worry and our wonder. The hammer: the pen. The nail: the page. The heart: the listening, noticing, allowing, and yes, dreaming.

So for the next four Fridays at 4:00 pm, MST, and maybe beyond, I’m going to host a one hour FREE guided journal-writing session called So Now What Writing. I will continue leading Haven Writing Retreats, and The So Now What Workshops, and will be launching an extensive online writing course later this spring or when it feels right in light of our world upheaval. But for now, I want to give something to you at no cost, because I want this to be available to all who need it. Bring your kids. Bring your partners. Bring your elders. Bring you! We’ll sit “together” in my home in Montana and hearken and hammer together using the written word. We’ll focus on what we want to shed from the past. What we want to embrace right now. And what we want to create going forward. I’ll give you inspiring prompts and time to write, time to share (optional), and I’ll give you a practice that you can do on your own to help you get through this time.

We need this. I need this.  Again, “Writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.” Let’s be well together.

Here’s the info for how to join me:
Fridays, 4:00-5:00 MST

Join Zoom Meeting

https://zoom.us/j/983992436?pwd=bnhISHlzNDk0dUplelNwRXBMK1l5UT09

Meeting ID: 983 992 436

Password: sonowwhat

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Off Script. Musings from my fear and my love

I’m going to go on for a while. So make some tea. We need to talk. I need to talk. You need to talk. We are off script. And our minds need to bend and move, just like our bodies do. This is not a time to edit ourselves. (Unless we’re being mean. Please don’t be mean.) It doesn’t help to say things like, “Well, someone else has it worse.” Or “My problems are small in comparison to…” No. Your problems matter. And we need to share them. All of it matters: whether you’re afraid of getting Covid-19, or if you’re afraid you’re going to lose every drop of savings in the stock market, or if you feel deeply alone and sorry for yourself, or if you’ve gone through all your mac and cheese and are pining away for sushi and feeling guilty about it, or if you’ve lost your job, or if you have no idea where your next paycheck will come from, or if your damn cable doesn’t work and you really need to watch Jimmy Fallon right now…because Jimmy Fallon is the only thing that makes you happy. Or if you don’t have any toilet paper and are staring at some old T-shirts you don’t like in a whole new way. ALL of it MATTERS! People: Let’s TALK! Normally I don’t answer comments on my blog, but I am now! COMMENT AWAY!

AND…there’s a special writing prompt at the end to help you. No photos to keep your attention. No promo. Just. This. I love you all. If you want to buy my book, you can find it. Please support indie bookstores.

Ok—here goes.

From my journal—two months ago. February, 2020 (very vulnerable so please…)

Stop the world. I want to get off.” For months I’ve been saying these words. Privately. I’m not sure why, really. It’s just a feeling I’ve been having. The world is going too fast and I try to go fast along with it like so many of us do. All of us small business owner/entrepreneurs feel it. Our financial security is dependent upon constantly thinking What can I create? What hasn’t been done that I could do powerfully and uniquely? What do people need that I know how to give? And how do I give it and stay genuine, but not give it all away for free, which is my tendency? How do I value what I have to give? Part of me just wants to throw in the towel and give it all away for free and start an artist’s commune on my land in Montana. The world needs to stop. Right. Like that’s going to happen. I don’t even watch dystopian stuff. It’s too scary. But man…how much longer can we go like this? Why can’t people watch birds. They know everything that we’re too blind to see. Or afraid to remember.

I try with all my might to walk it in integrity. But still it’s: click that, heart that, join this, comment here, hashtag this, don’t you dare hashtag that, share there, show up, be yourself, don’t worry, but oops worry because it’s too late, too wrong, off brand, off off off. Shit. I need help with my business. I’m in deep. I’m overwhelmed. Stop. Breathe. I got this. Buck up– I made my bed so I should be able to lie in it. Shame has no place here. Another deep breath. Own what there is to own. Look out the window. Try to find a bird. A tree. But…stop the world, I want to get off.

Why can’t we all slow the fuck down? Why do people think it’s romantic at best to pay attention to birds? When I try to remind them, why do they give me a weird look, the look I used to give my grandmother when I’d hop on my ten speed as a kid, hellbent for a long ride in the only freedom a twelve year old knows, and she’d look at me so dire and tell me to wear a hat or I’d catch my “death of cold.” She lived through the flu epidemic of 1918. We lost people. Why don’t people understand that the birds and the trees are speaking to each other, based on an innate knowing? It may be romantic but it’s also scientific. Romance and science aside, all I know is that I can’t keep going like this. It might look like I’m keeping up very very well, and for the most part…I am. But I feel this deep, impending doom. Like I’m chasing after something that doesn’t want to be chased after. Like it’s done holding the torch. Like I’m done holding the torch to keep track of it. Like we all just need to S.T.O.P. Like I might need to put on a hat, this death of cold being what it really might be. I can’t shake it. This feeling of the world needing to stop.

And then the other voice. The one that’s watched a lot of Ted Talks:

You are doing your best and you are doing good work on this planet. Give yourself a break. Just do one meaningful thing after the next and do it in the way that only you can. Don’t give up. And don’t compare yourself to others. You are on your own path. But you need to learn when to call it a day. It’s midnight. Time to stop. Time to read Mary Oliver so that you don’t forget about grace. You are dangerously close to forgetting about grace. If you keep working this hard…you just might altogether.

And then this other voice speaks—the one I’ve never been able to shake, even with a lot of therapy. The mean one:

What are you even doing, so frantically pushing all those buttons all day, anyway. You don’t even really know how to push all those buttons. Forget your brand. You’re a writer. You should sell everything and find some little shack somewhere and eat beans and rice and write books and that’s it. Your kids will be fine. They don’t need their family home. There are other good writing retreats out there. Time to rip up your business model and start again so that you can finish those books sitting there on your computer and in your heart. Gnawing away at you for not finishing them. Why don’t you create an online course?  Really good one. Not to replace Haven. But just to give yourself a break and to get some great content out there for people who don’t want to come to Montana.

Panic. Ish. I’m not good with panic. I don’t believe in it. And yet…

But…I love my Haven programs. They’ve changed so many lives. We need weeklong interludes from our lives! I can’t just stop. No way! And, I love leading them. I love those brave seekers. I get to help people find their words, find their intuition, find the connection to themselves and other kindreds that they long for, get un-stuck, come into rich self-acceptance. I love creating these small communities, group after group, and the large community it has become seven years in, and 1,000 people from all over the world. If it weren’t for those buttons I push all day, I wouldn’t be able to do this work. And…I love my home, and I love that my children have a safe, steady place in Montana, and that it’s our sanctuary. I’m not letting go of our sanctuary. Stop talking to me like that. Please. You’ll never win. I was put on earth to do this work.

And then the oldest voice I know…one from as far back as I can remember…a small, defeated, scared, stoic voice whispers, “Stop the world. I want to get off.”

This wasn’t a suicidal thought. Not at all. But it was a feeling of severe world-weariness.

In short, in the last few months, I was experiencing a level of anxiety that I’d never known before. I am usually a grounded human being, even in chaos. (Not great in an airplane stuck on the tarmac or in elevators…truth be told, but otherwise, yes. Grounded. Bring me a horse emergency in the mountains of Montana, and I’m your girl.) But I was at war with myself and our society in a way that was foreign to me, trying so hard to be grateful for the internet, because without it, how would I book my retreats, some of the most fulfilling work of my life, and without my retreats, how would I have any time to write because they are my main source of income? But on dark days, I would sit in my bed and stare out the window and wonder why a writer has to push buttons at all. Except the ones through which we tell our stories. And then I would just feel like an asshole. Because I lead a lucky life. I love my work. I love my incredible children. Still…again…I would catch myself whispering, “Stop the world. I want to get off.” I told precisely no one. Told myself it was self-indulgent. Just keep on keeping on.

But anxiety is new for me, and it was scary. I kept telling myself that it was because I was about to go on book tour and all that I’d invested in it in every way. Seven years of writing draft after draft of my novel, Willa’s Grove, and a year of planning the publicity for it, eighteen events in thirty days in eight cities and beyond. As any author knows, it’s a lot to go from creating this book with a beating heart, and then passing it around for people to scrutinize, fall in love with, reject altogether. And to do it from coast to coast, in person. Fortunately, I’m an extrovert and love being on the road. But even for an extrovert, writers are highly sensitive people. And it takes a spectrum of stamina to go from writer mode, to that person on the stage, to that person writing authentic, loving messages in books, and then on to the next city. I was ready for it. I believe in this novel with all my heart. I love its theme of community, especially during crossroads moments. I knew it would land in many hearts, and it was my job to be its tireless messenger. Also…having a published novel is my oldest dream. I was ready to prove myself as a novelist, and not only a memoirist. I was leaned in. And I was cranking! Zero anxiety. In the flow. I was watching the book come alive in people’s hearts from New York, to Boston, to Chicago, and Minneapolis. Ready for some of my favorite cities on earth: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and beyond.

And then it happened. The world stopped. And I took my book and went home. Asked a friend to buy beans and rice and some duct tape and whatever else felt important at the grocery store—too late for toilet paper…and drop it in my mailbox (because it’s a small town and who knows what I was exposed to on the road!), and spent the next day doing the acrobatics it takes to get two kids home from far and wide in a time when everyone was trying to do the same thing. They’re here. We’re here. The birds are back. I self-quarantined, and two weeks later, lockdown officially started yesterday in Montana. We are blessed that we can still roam around in the woods. And I feel so grateful that it’s spring, not winter.

Never did I dream that the theme of my new novel is what we’re all asking right now: So Now What. I walk the house, looking at my ancestors’ belongings that survived wars and pandemics and the Depression. I open their letters for wisdom and clues. “I knit you this sweater, but Papa doesn’t want me to send it to you for fear of the packaging infecting you with the Grippe. Please burn when you get it.”

How is this time in history any different from 1918? That’s what has us all shocked. How could we have been so clueless? Careless? What do the dolphins in Venice know? We’re asking them now. We’re asking the birds and trees. It’s no longer romance. Because for certain…turns out—we don’t know a lot, even scientifically. We’re still pushing our buttons, trying to keep a semblance of what was just weeks ago. But suddenly we are evermore clear that if those buttons stop working…we really will have to know what it is to truly stop. And we can pretend that would never happen. Or we can get real. Radically real. Do you know where your waste goes when you flush your toilet? Do you know where your water comes from? Do you know the person who lives in the apartment above yours? Have you called your neighbors to see if they need bread? Have you asked them if they have an extra egg or two? Have you bought seeds? Or are you still complaining about toilet paper?

The world has stopped. So Now What.

I just keep looking at birds. And trees. I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to live on land in Montana. But even out your window, I bet you can see a bird. Or a tree. Somewhere. It’s time we drop to our knees and bow to the thing we call “nature.” There’s a scene toward the end of “Willa’s Grove” when one of the characters talks about how connected with herself she feels, having spent a week in Montana. She worries how she’s going to bring this feeling back to her suburban/urban life. And Willa says to her, “Jane. You are nature.” Never before have I felt more desperate to convey this message. It’s time we stop thinking that nature is separate from us. We don’t go “out in nature.” We are nature. We are nature in an elevator and in an airplane. We are nature right where we are, whether standing on a rug in our living room, or a concrete sidewalk, or climbing a tree, or standing in a field of migrating snow geese. We. Are. Nature.

We are also one organism. That’s another part of “Willa’s Grove” that I love, and why it has its title. Willa points out that a grove of aspen trees is one organism. By the end, these four women vibe like one organism. It’s undeniable and they are deeply schooled by it. But it’s more than just a grove of aspens. We are all one organism. The world stopped and we’d be absolutely dead inside if we were to refuse this reality right now. Never before has the whole world united against the same “enemy.” How is this not the most massive opportunity in our civilization? Let’s take it! We must!

So what are we going to do with it? Are we going to let our children play X-box for hours on end until this pandemic is over? Are we not going to gather at the kitchen table and talk about our fears that it will be a long time before it’s over with more lost lives than we can imagine, including our own? If all the buttons stop working…are we going to just keep pushing them, because they used to work, and they should work, shouldn’t they– so that we don’t have to feel what there is to feel? There is so much to feel. Now is the time for deep feeling. And the most honest living that we’ve ever/never imagined.

Writers, highly sensitive types, always feel what there is to feel. And that makes us unpopular sometimes. But in a time like this, people are looking up from their bubble of what has “promised” security, and realized…a bubble is easier to break than they were willing to admit. All it takes is one…sharp…needle. And this one…is sharp. And exacting. Doesn’t matter what’s in your bank account. Or what letters you have after your name. If you’re a prince or a homeless person. We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. So…let’s like it. So we can beat it. Learn from it. Finally…be the change. I keep picturing Mother Nature dancing. And she’s saying, “Stop.”

I’m not going to get into stats or political blame because I’m not geared that way. All I know is that we’re in trouble. And we’ve been in trouble for a long time. And we stand an extraordinary chance of getting out of that trouble right now. Can we please make it count? Can we please talk? Can we please speak heart language? Can we honor authentic self-expression in the way we always should? In the way we knew how to as children? Can we blow the dust off of that old journal and get real with our fears? Whether we are in leadership positions or not, can we admit that we’re afraid? Can we stop saying stupid things to people we love like, “You’re not the only one this is happening to, you know.” Can we make room for each others’ stories and fears? I bring communities together for a living. But I’m “preaching to the choir” when I facilitate those communities. These people already value the importance of sharing their truth, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them. Now we ALL need to value the essential nature of sharing our truth, written or spoken.

At the end of “Willa’s Grove” there is a letter to the reader which is a call to action for what I’m hoping will start a movement. It calls us to stop pretending and hiding and saying we’re fine when our hearts are bleeding inside. It calls us to step out of isolation and shame when our lives aren’t going the way we planned, and find safe circles of trust to speak our truth. A month ago, we were kids rolling our eyes at our grandmothers who were telling us to put on a hat for our bike ride, hopping on our ten speeds with all the open sidewalk ahead of us. Now we’re wrecked with a twisted pile of metal next to us, bleeding and cold and wishing someone would stop and help us get back home in time for dinner but ashamed to ask.

So I’m here to help. Not because I’ve never crashed my bike, and not because I didn’t crash my bike this morning when I opened my eyes and remembered that the world stopped and why. But because I’m willing to admit it to you. I’m willing to show you the bloody wound under the Band-aid. Please show me yours.

When I went out on book tour at the beginning of this month, so excited to share a book that I love profoundly with people across the US…I knew I needed a mantra. I used the mantra from my last book tour, because it worked then and that was a much harder tour because I starred as the main character. This time I was spreading news of the power of community, especially during So Now What moments in our lives.

I want to share it with you:

I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.

It was working beautifully from New York, to Boston, to Chicago, to Minneapolis…until we all knew that it was time to pack it up and go home. So many of us have had to pack up our dreams and go home. To do an overnight 180 and let go of all that we have saved for and planned for, so carefully, and for so long. And think about food and water and duct tape and whatever else holds our life together when we’re not pushing the almighty button and ignoring birds and trees. Suddenly grateful for getting the kids home. Suddenly grateful that we have a home…trying not to think how we’re going to pay our mortgage or our property taxes, or where our next paycheck is coming from, or or or. We’re not supposed to complain. We’re not supposed to worry. We’re not supposed to be pissed.

Well I can tell you right now, as someone who has devoted her life to self-expression, especially when it’s inconvenient or embarrassing…we need to be sharing how we really feel with those who will be kind and supportive and understanding. Choose carefully. But please…do choose.

So this morning, I changed my mantra. I figured I ought to go first before I ask others to do the same. Here it is:

I give myself permission to feel scared, desperate, and pissed. AND to surrender. Give up. Lie in bed lethargic. Not be a leader. Not help anyone. At least for this moment. I give myself permission to believe that in observing my true feelings, I may be opening myself to whatever needs to give itself to me. I give myself permission to believe: Maybe something miraculous is about to happen.

Something for you to do right now:

I want you to do this too. I want you to find a piece of paper somewhere and write down a few sentences. An honest love note to yourself, giving yourself permission to be right where you are. Keep it close to your bed. When you wake up tomorrow, write another one. Maybe it’s changed overnight. Or maybe it’s still true. You’ll know. This is the time for honesty, even if you loathe and despise your current feelings. Please…feel them.

We have an unprecedented opportunity right now as a civilization to honor the power of truth and self-expression.

To see that we are one organism.

To know at the center of our very being that…we are nature.

Watch the birds and trees.

They know.

And so do we. We just forgot.

We love each other. We love each other. We love each other.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

 

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So Now What: love from Laura, and the women of Willa’s Grove

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We’re all asking this question right now, globally: So Now What?

Life isn’t going as we planned, to say the least, due to COVID-19. So many of our labored-over plans have been derailed. We’re off script. We’re worried. We’re trying to find the balance between staying calm and being informed. We’re trying not to catastrophize. We’re trying not to complain. But we are in pain. And we need each other.

I’ve just been on book tour promoting my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” which we needed to cancel midway. The theme of the book is: So Now What. I never dreamed it would be so timely.

At the beginning of the book, four women receive an invitation. “You are invited to the rest of your life.” They receive this invitation because they are all at major crossroads moments, facing some version of So Now What. And instead of connecting with their daily communities, sharing their stories in order to figure out what’s next…they are all isolating. Becoming islands. It doesn’t have to be this way. I wrote “Willa’s Grove” to show the magic of what happens when people connect in a deliberate way, with what I’m calling a “bridge community,” outside their daily communities…so that they can more authentically and powerfully bridge to themselves and then back to their regular lives. Even though the novel isn’t about a writing retreat, it was inspired by the magic I’ve seen happen for now 1000 people who have come to my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana for the last eight years. People come together with the express intention of moving forward in their lives, and at Haven, writing is their way. In “Willa’s Grove,” it’s the spoken word. It’s no surprise that when we face the end of chapters in our lives, we wonder what’s next. But it is a surprise to many people that we are isolating because of it. And that’s because we are pretending that we’re okay when we’re not. And right now…we’re not okay. We need to stop pretending. We need to get real. Lovingly so.

As I crossed the country doing book talks and workshops, I paid attention to how So Now What is in our collective and I want to share it here. This was before we were talking about social distancing, and before schools, office buildings, whole cities, and countries were being shut down. I can only imagine how much more we are asking that question today, and will be asking it in the days to come. Hold on. I believe that what you’ll read below is good news.

I took a poll before I spoke at each event:

I asked:

“Raise your hand if you have ever faced a So Now What moment.”

Of course, everyone raised their hands.

Then I asked:

“Raise your hand if you, or someone you know, is asking So Now What right now?

At least half the room raised their hands.

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I asked them to look around.

“I want you to see that you are not alone. We need each other. We need to talk. We need to share our heart language. We need to help each other. But let’s be careful who we share our hearts with. What about creating bridge community? Temporary interludes from our lives with people who understand the precarious nature of the crossroads in which we stand.”

And then I asked people to call out what the major crossroads are for themselves or the people in their lives. And it was fascinating. Every single place I went (and I will hit the road again when it’s safe)…I heard the same So Now What’s.

These were at the top of the list:

Career change/failure

Empty Nest

Divorce

And I thought…how fascinating. No WONDER we’re isolating, hiding, pretending! We signed up for these things! We have kids to see them fledge. We choose a field of study to build a career out of it. We choose our spouses for the long haul.

Enter: shame.

Even for the So Now What’s that aren’t things we signed up for, like the death of a loved one, or caregiving for a parent with dementia, there’s still so often shame that we “should” be able to handle it. Or the shame that comes from Why me? It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I must have somehow caused it. And on and on. Just two weeks on the road…and I learned such a valuable lesson: So Now What is deeply linked to shame. But we can change that.

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I could feel the relief when I then asked them this: “Now ask yourself: are you, or the people you know in So Now What crossroads, isolating? Becoming islands. Pretending. Hiding.” And even though I asked them not to raise hands or say anything, I saw so many heads nodding. So many eyes closing with pain in their brow.

The women of “Willa’s Grove” have been doing just that. Push has come to shove, and Willa finally decides that she needs to call on a friend who she can trust, and who will find empathy for her So Now What. Why? Because she’s in her own crossroads. And they cook up the invitation, and the weeklong interlude—friend to friend to friend to friend. All of them converge in Willa’s farmhouse in Montana. They have those conversations. They bridge to each other, SO THAT they can more powerfully and authentically bridge back to their daily communities. I can’t say it enough: we need to say what’s truly on our hearts. Just to the people who will get it. It’s one of the very best ways I can imagine to bust through that shame and isolation!

To that end: I’m trying to start a movement of bridge communities. Weeklong respites from our lives. We’re starved for it. I saw it on the road. And I see it at Haven over and over again. These groups vibe HIGH, in radical and real communication. As one of the characters in “Willa’s Grove” says, “You know…we’re all fluent in this language of community. And yet we so rarely speak it. It really is our mother tongue.” On book tour, when I read my letter to the reader at the end of the book, calling people to action for this movement…audiences clapped. It’s a life-altering message and I’m honored to be one of its messengers.

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I was crushed to have to end the tour mid-way. So many more audiences and raised hands and raised awareness and knowing nods. So much more RELIEF in people’s eyes. “I needed this so badly. I didn’t realize how much shame I’m in and how I’ve become an island. I’m SO going to host one of these So Now What weeks!” It was such sweet music to my ears because since the book just came out in early March, I hadn’t really seen its message doing its work yet. I was hopeful, but authors never know if their book will land where they hope it will land. But after my very first event, I knew that my instincts were correct in writing this book: We’ve forgotten how badly we need each other. We’ve forgotten how to have those conversations we need to be having. We’ve forgotten how to make space for them and honor them as one of the most important things we can be doing in the realm of self-care.

And now…here we are. In a different kind of isolation, globally. We have to be for a while. Who knows how long. Stocking up and tucking in and hopefully…connecting with our loved ones and strangers– still gathering, only virtually. I love the support and generosity I’m seeing online. I love the tearful conversations I’ve had on the phone, admitting what’s really on our hearts. I love that new social media support groups are popping up. I love that we are finding creative ways to hold each other.

Yes, we are off script. And yes, we need each other. The last line of the invitation that calls these women to Montana is this: “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Z8PU2RXvSWe76ytpufiE8g_thumb_7ed2So, I’m going to do my best to help in my own way.

Here’s how:

Watching: (I will be doing all of the below on my Facebook Laura Munson Author page. Please go there now and Like it so that you will be the first to learn of all of my offerings. We’re going to get creative, friends!) 

  • I’ll be sharing a special FB LIVE Virtual Book Tour Event, with readings and Q&A, special gifts, inspiration. I’m doing the first one this Thursday at 5:00 PST.
  • I have two videos from two of my Book Tour events and I’ll be sharing them on FB in the next weeks. These will be one hour events, and I will be on deck to answer questions throughout. I will be offering special gifts for these events as well. I will be posting the first one (filmed in New York City) on Sunday the 22nd at 11:00 PST. And then take you to Minneapolis for my second on Sunday the 29th at 11:00 PST for another hour. The excerpts vary, and so do the live questions. Join me for both!
  • Love from Montana: I’ll be posting regular live Facebook videos from my Montana home and land so I can share the peace and spaciousness of this place on earth with you. The birdsongs. The melting snow. My two sweet dogs playing in the yard so innocently. What I’m reading. What I’m cooking. What I’m feeling. Inspired thoughts that I hope will help us. I’ll also be reading from “Willa’s Grove,” and other books I love. Who doesn’t love to be read to?

Reading:

  • Now is a perfect time to hunker down with the women of “Willa’s Grove” and be transported to Montana. As the best-selling author, Julie Barton said in her blurb of my book, “It’s what my heart needed right now.”lrDnMbYJRPuQB7+Npw13xA_thumb_7d31
  • If you are in a book club reading “Willa’s Grove,” here are some book club questions. Happy to be “beamed in” virtually! Likely you’re doing your gatherings online too, so we’ll be talking heads together! Email me: laura@lauramunson.com for more info.

Listening:

Here’s the Audio version of “Willa’s Grove.” I love how this actress read these characters. She nailed it!

Recent Podcasts featuring “Willa’s Grove” and more…

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

The Women’s Eye

The Jen Weigel Show (Good info on the COVID-19 Virus in the 1st segment. I come in at the end.)

…And coming soon…

Learning: (and writing)

  • I’ll be hosting So Now What Webinars with writing prompts and opportunities to share.
  • I’ll be launching my online Haven Home mini and master Writing Course! HOURS of helpful writing theory and practice with gorgeous Montana scenery as your writing timer! I cannot WAIT to share it with you!

We’ll do this together online. And it will help us not feel so far away from each other.

With love to you all,

Laura (and the women of “Willa’s Grove”)

I’m still booking my 2020 Haven Writing Retreats! Holding hope that we can stop this virus by social distancing soon! Everybody– please give it your best! Stay in and read, share on social media, call your loved ones.

Haven 2020 Schedule:

May 6-10 (one spot left!!!)
June 10-14 (still room)
June 17-21 (still room)
September 16-20 (now booking)
September 23-27 (now booking)
October 28-November 1 (now booking)

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

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Spread Love (not viruses)

Willa's GroveI have letters from my family that go back to the 1918 flu epidemic. Many of them. And they all talk about the Grippe in a beautiful, dedicated, and terrified ink script:  “Dear, Son. I knitted you this sweater. Please wear it and your wool overclothes that Papa and I sent along last Christmas, as often as you can. Soak in Epsom salts if you feel a fever coming on. Also, after this comes to you, please burn the packaging. You know how much I worry about the Grippe. Let us know when you can come home. Love, Mother.”

Willa's Grove

So much fear. And rightfully so. The world lost many to it. We lost people to it. As my family often says, “We are cemetery people.” And we have stood at graves that ended in 1918. 1918, the year of my father’s birth. He had no memory of it. Only what his elders told him. Maybe that’s part of why he said over and over to me, “Do you know how lucky we are.”

Now, in 2020, I am on a national book tour during a pandemic that’s being compared to the flu epidemic of 1918. I’m traveling from coast to coast and in-between, and I am watching, worrying, wondering, loving, feeling all that there is to feel. And there’s a LOT to feel. I think we all know to wash our hands. But what about our fear? How do we wash that out of us?

Here’s what I’m seeing on the road, and it’s GOOD NEWS! I hope it lifts some of your fear and worry, and also gives you some good information in making your travel choices, and choices in general.

  • I’m seeing from NY, NJ, Boston, Chicago…and soon to MN, SF, PDX, Seattle, and LA…love. Kindness. Gentleness.
  • Everybody’s talking.
  • They’re looking up from their screens.
  • They’re wondering if they should be scared.
  • They’re wondering if they should touch each other.
  • They’re talking about how they shouldn’t touch each other.
  • They’re choosing in some cases not to touch each other.
  • They’re touching each other by talking.
  • They’re spreading love.
  • And hopefully not viruses. 

Willa's GrovePlease take care of yourself, especially if you are at all compromised health-wise. And please, if you are needing community and inspiration…come share in my events and workshops. They are intimate gatherings in intimate settings and people are showing up everywhere I’ve gone. We’ve had powerful experiences together all along the way. Come take a load off and share in the wisdom of “Willa’s Grove.” These are the conversations that we need to be having. All of my events are here: https://lauramunson.com/events/

And if you are needing to stay inside, curl up with some tea and my novel, or listen to some of my recent podcasts about “Willa’s Grove” and Haven Writing Retreats (below). I’ve also shared below a link to some Book Group questions. If you’re cloistering yourself, there’s always Zoom calls, etc. Please stay together in one way or another! I believe so deeply in the essential nature of intimate gatherings that invite real, raw, and truthful conversation.

Love,

Laura

Haven 2020 Schedule:

May 6-10 (one spot left!!!)
June 10-14 (still room)
June 17-21 (still room)
September 16-20 (now booking)
September 23-27 (now booking)
October 28-November 1 (now booking)

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

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Book Group Questions for “Willa’s Grove”

Recent Podcasts featuring “Willa’s Grove” and more…

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

The Jen Weigel Show (Good info on the Corona Virus in the 1st segment. I come in at the end.)

WORKSHOP: Writing and the Art of Living Mindfully 

If you feel like you need the red woods and a weekend of mindfulness and writing to calm you…I’ll be leading a workshop with my friend Albert deSilver at the incredible 1440 in Santa Cruz…and there’s still room! To register click here!

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Why I Wrote WILLA’S GROVE: Finding your So Now What?

As seen on Women’s Writers, Women’s Books

Willa's Grove, Haven Writing Retreats

Book ideas are always coming to me. I’m usually working on a few at the same time and always in different genres—different ways to find the truth. That’s what I’m after: truth. Each book begins with a central question—some quirk of humanity that gnaws away at me. Or something that fills me with righteous indignation, and I burn with it so hot that I have to stop, break it down, and look at it from the inside out.

At the root of every book I write…there is the pure longing to understand this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. In our quick-fire, button-pushing world, these sorts of burning questions can easily inspire a rant or a manifesto or land too tidily in Ten Easy Steps or the dread red bow.

To me, this approach lacks heart. It is devoid of story, which then fails to build the bridge that as a reader, and writer, I crave.

Stories bring us into the collective, hold us there, make us look and feel and maybe even find answers…which of course, beget more questions.

That’s why I love the novel. Out of all genres, the novel imitates and illuminates our stories—yet relieves the burden of reality with a distilled reality.

To me, fiction is realer than real. And to me, fiction then unfurls those burning questions in a way that is liberated by possibility. Namely, the possibility of finding an honest answer to the questions that work inside of us like a glass splinter.

We live our lives in questions, and we live them in scenes, with beating hearts around us, especially our own. The question that has driven my life for the last decade is one that I really didn’t think would be central to my life. At all.

But my life re-wrote its script, and I’ve caught myself saying over and over again: So now what? Maybe you can relate.

Once I started to tune into that question, I heard it everywhere. I heard it from friends, family, and mostly from the people who come to my Haven Writing Retreats. That central question births brawny answers and writing into the answer, whether for yourself or others, is one of the most powerful, healing, hopeful acts I know.

That’s when these characters started calling to me. Willa. Bliss. Harriet. Jane. They called from across the country and from lonely rooms with bleeding hearts. They called out of their shame and lost wonder. They called out of fear and isolation and loneliness and longing. They called to tell me that I am not alone and neither are you. We are in this together. We’ve just forgotten. And that’s why I knew I had to write this book. We need to build bridges to each other. We need to help each other answer our So now what.

I could have written this book as a memoir. I could have written it as a self-help book. But these women called, and I listened, and in giving them voice—sometimes words I didn’t want to write—I found a hole in our humanity.

We have lost the gift of conversation. Long, lingering conversation. Where no one is looking at cell phones or watches or thinking about checking off the next item on their To Do list. When is the last time you sat for hours with trusted kindreds and really…I mean really…spoke your truth? Told your stories. For a week. No red bows. No easy steps. No prescriptive advice. No shame or blame. And no fixing. What would that even look like and how on earth would you keep it safe? And…what if you did it far from home…for a whole week? In a quiet, wild place like Montana, say…

That’s what these women asked me. They were relentless. It was dire. They each were staring down the barrel of something you, or someone you love, have experienced. I wrote it once the way I wanted it to go…and then they got louder, and I wrote it again the way they wanted it to go. Six years of listening to and laboring with their questions…and I have Willa’s Grove to give to you in March.

I’m going to miss them. That’s what happens when you live so honestly in the central questions of your life, and when you do it in a community of people you can trust. You relax into warm blankets and rocking chairs and cups of tea by the fire. And you feel safe enough to talk– to really share how you feel and what you fear and what you want with all your heart. These women gave me the answer to my So now what. None of them is “me.” All of them are “us.”

You could argue that in writing this book, I remained in my isolation. In my pain and questions. That I lived in imagined community for six years. But I can tell you that the work I do as a teacher, editor, retreat facilitator, mother, and liver of life was made whole by being in this circle of women.

They were my teachers, and we all need our teachers. Thusly, teachers need to be willing to be the student, so the writing of this novel, then, schooled me like nothing I have ever written. (And believe me…there are a lot of books in my office closet that will never see the light of day because I wasn’t ready to be exactly this student.)

Here’s what’s possible when we write so purely from our heart: One day, I was walking in the snowy forest and I came upon a gorgeous aspen grove.

As Willa tells the women, an aspen grove is one organism. And it is not lost on them that by the end of their week together, they are one such grove. Hence the title.

So when I saw this grove, its black veins so pronounced against its alabaster trunk and branches, all set against the Montana snow…I stopped. Smiled. Thought, Oh, the women would love a photo of this aspen grove. And I took off my mitten, unzipped my parka pocket, pulled out my phone, took a few photos, and then looked for the text feed that surely must exist between the women of Willa’s Grove and me. Surely. And then I blinked and laughed out loud and said, “My god! They don’t exist!” Call me crazy. Or call the exactitude of story-telling one mighty form of self-expression. One mighty answer to one mighty question. One mighty supplicant-splay on the altar of truth.

It is my hope that people will read this book and think, “I want to host my own Grove week. I want to sit in this circle. I need to sit in this circle. I need to find my So now what. And I promise you, there are three other people out there in your world…who do too. They just might be hiding, pretending, smiling in the grocery store when their hearts are breaking. Ask them. As the book begins…You are invited to the rest of your life.

Come see me on book tour!

Willa's Grove Book Tour

 

 Haven Writing Retreats

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10 (two spots left!!!)
June 10-14
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Taking Your Message on the Road

Dedicated to anyone who gets on stages with a message they care about.

Pre-order your copy of Willa’s Grove from your local bookstore or here for its March 3rd release!

Willa's Grove Book Tour

 

***My new website, with all the event links, launches this week…so stay tuned! For now, all of my event info can be found on the above websites.

Most every author I know both loves and dreads the book tour. I’m in the LOVE camp, but it also requires some heavy grounding and strong tools that you learn and lose and learn again. At least that’s how it is for me. One minute you’re on the stage sharing this book that has lived in you like a child in your womb, exposing it to the light of day, hoping people will love it like you do, afraid that they won’t, trying to let go of that attachment, trying to focus on being an authentic messenger. And sometimes when you’re on that stage, people assign you power. Put you on a pedestal, even. And sometimes they don’t. At all. (I had a heckler once!) And it’s your job to not take any of it personally, even though…I mean…if you have a kid…it sure would be nice for people to like it. So you do your best to share from the depths of your heart—without giving your heart away altogether, walking that fine line with all your might.

And then the next moment, you’re in a hotel room staring at the ceiling with a 4:00 am alarm set to catch a plane to another city, forgetting where you are in the time space continuum, never mind where the bathroom is, and the door for that matter, with another bad pillow under your head wondering why you are doing this at all. Isn’t it enough to just write the book, and have people read it and think what they want to think and it’s none of your business? That’s what you ask in that dark hotel room that smells like soggy cereal and institutional laundry bleach. And then you fall asleep and dream that you’re on the stage naked and people are throwing rotten tomatoes at you. And then the alarm goes off and you take in a deep breath because you want to get your kid to the next place it needs to go so you can give it all that a good mother gives to her child. And you do this in seven cities in eighteen days, sixteen times—and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of support from your publisher, or if you’ve figured out a way to do it on your own. How else could you possibly live with yourself if you didn’t? You have to. It’s just the way it works these days. And you are grateful. Deeply grateful. And there are moments of supreme joy and delight all along the way. AND you are also a little scared. A little wobbly. Hoping you’ll know yourself out there on the road.

I was on the road off and on for six years, promoting my memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, in the US, and internationally, and I learned so much about myself and the life that a book takes on. I was a tireless messenger. I was in it to help people. I was in it to finally realize a very old dream. I was in it to do everything in my power to make that bridge to the reader to complete the connection I built when I wrote that book in the first place. And I’m about to do it again in two weeks. New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. Back home. And then to LA, and on and on. I love the road. I love meeting readers. I love watching my book baby take on life in the hearts of others. I love the prospect of others connecting with my characters, learning from them, feeling their hearts, rooting for their conflicts to find resolve. I’ve lived with them intimately for seven years and it’s time that they be released from their pages. It is a true honor to be their messenger.

The Dread part is usually more like this: (And this applies to anyone who is a messenger for something they hold dear.)

We create in solitude. Even if we’re extroverts (which for a writer is rare…but I am one for sure), it’s a strange thing to be able to coherently, and hopefully wisely, communicate just what our book is about. Part of us wants to say, “I wrote it. Now read it. You tell me what it’s about!”

The tendency is to want to splay ourselves supplicant on the altar of our book’s message, and every single one of its readers– especially those who show up to hear us read from it, ask us questions, receive our answers. This is not recommended. But we love these characters and the place they inhabit so purely and powerfully that it’s heartbreaking to think that others won’t. Or worse—that they’ll loathe and despise them. And that’s like someone loathing and despising our child. Enter: tough skin. Most writers don’t have it. Which is why we can write in the first place. We’re highly sensitive people. We feel everything. We are so full of empathy that oftentimes it’s to a fault. The trick is to not let that empathy derail us.

Advice to all of us on stages everywhere: You can’t control how people will react to your work. You can’t cause an effect for anyone in those audiences. You can’t take their reaction personally. You have to allow yourself to be misunderstood. You have to put your head on that bad pillow in the hotel room each night and let…it…go…

The main thing is that you have to support yourself as you go, and that’s the challenge. Taking care of yourself. And the stuff you do in your daily life in the realm of self-care might not play in Peoria. You might find yourself behaving in a way that totally shocks you. You might feel shame and disorientation. Please…from someone who knows…be kind to yourself. Find people who will hold your hand along the way in your humanity. Who know your heart. Who won’t put you on any sort of pedestal. And who in some way understand from experience what it is to take a message public.

So as I prepare to go on the road for all of March and most of April, doing ongoing promotion throughout 2020, I’m taking stock. As with any of you who hit the road with your message, it requires good boundaries and an open heart…and sometimes those two are hard to assemble into wholeness. So yes Love…and Dread. Take that love and use it to embrace your fear. Take that love and hope and wonder and belief…and wrap it around yourself. I have to believe that when we show up pulsing with love, that it honors everyone. And maybe I’ll even be good at it.

See you out there on the road! If you’re in the audience…please send me a little wink. We’re in this together. As my father used to say, “Shoulders back, Munson!” And that goes for all of the messengers out there!

Yours,

Laura

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10 (still room!)
June 10-14
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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The (C)Harm in Asking: A You’re Welcome attitude

1268E8FA-1345-4544-9484-1C373AEA7C34Why is asking for help so hard? These days I have a list of things I need help with, and it always brings up so many uncomfortable emotions: guilt (that I need help in the first place), shame (that I might not be worth it), fear (of being rejected), worry (that I will be judged)…and on and on. Maybe you can relate. My needs run the gamut from splitting and stacking wood, plowing my driveway, shoveling my snowy paths…to finding support running my business, to finding support for my upcoming book tour and promotion, both of which are not unlike needing support for my children to find the schools, friends, jobs, communities which will understand them, buoy them, help them be all that they want to be in this precious life of theirs. (And WITHOUT guilt, shame, fear, worry, etc.) I’ve never been a helicopter mom, but my kids know that I will try to move mountains if need be, whether or not I fail. I’m there for them. And just like my children, I want my writing programs and my books to find their way in the world in their most fulfilled, honest, natural, and supported way possible. Which means…darn it…I have to ask. But asking for help with all things related to the workings of my non-mother life…is not easy. Traditionally, in fact, I suck at it. Again, maybe you can relate.

I think it’s so interesting that so many of us are over-the-moon happy to ask for others. Not just for our family, but for friends. Or friends of friends.

Your child is having a hard time with the college application process?

Let me connect you with someone I know.

You’re coming to Montana and you want to go into the backcountry on horseback?

Let me connect you with a stellar outfitter.

Your son is moving to Seattle and wants a job in the restaurant business?

Let me make a few phone calls.

You want to publish a book?

I know some people…

Asking on someone else’s behalf? Easy. Fluid. Comfortable. But on our own? Not so much. Why is it so hard to ask for ourselves?

I see it all the time. It’s endemic in our culture, and it’s not because Americans are known for being particularly polite or humble or understated. Uh-uh. We’ll paint our faces and scream at a TV screen for our favorite team. We’ll go to bat for a community stop sign in a dangerous intersection, or fight tirelessly for our wandering rights and open spaces, or a single mother with breast cancer who needs someone to watch her kids during her chemo treatments… We’d give a kidney for our child, but would we ask for one for ourselves? I hear this case for radical self-preservation often in my line of work: “My children need their mother.” Does push have to come to that sort of dire shove in order for us to take a powerful stand for our deepest needs, never mind that of our woodshed? All-too-often, the answer is yes. Push has to come to shove. And I am so guilty of this. See. There it is: guilt.

It’s time to heal this wound.

How? Well, I suppose it has to start with a pay-off. Because let’s face it: we’re not going to do anything unless there’s a pay-off. So what would it take to feel good about asking? What if it even felt great to ask for help? Think about it for a moment. The last time you were asked to give help or advice in your area of expertise…what did it feel like? I bet it felt good. Were you resentful? Or was it an honor? Did you judge the askee for being weak, or did you feel that her ask made her powerful? Did it model what’s possible for you the next time you are in need? Because…you know that time is around the corner. It always is. We’re all in this beautiful and heartbreaking thing together. Maybe it’s time that we started acting like it.

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Now flip it: If you know that it feels good to give, then why, when it comes to asking, does it feel so horrible to admit our lack of knowledge, or physical ability? Why does it feel desperate? Weak? Pathetic, even? What if it didn’t? What if it felt great to say, “I am not good with numbers. Can you explain Quicken to me?” (Note: don’t ask teenagers. They’re mean. Note II: Once they turn twenty, they’re much nicer.)

Enter: trust issues. Dirty secret: For me, certain sorts of asks feel more clean and clear and less shameful if I pay for that help, even if it’s a financial stretch. That’s its own kind of ask. But the hard core ask—the one that asks you to trust and to show your raw bleeding heart…those are the asks that can’t possibly come with a price tag. Like: “I’m having a meltdown. Can you come over and talk me through it?” That is one of the scariest “asks” I can think of. I’m pretty horrible at asking that ask. And yet that’s the exact moment when it’s most vital to put guilt and shame and self-worth issues aside, pick up the phone, and call a good friend. Of course, if you do this every day…that’s different. That’s for the therapist. I’m talking about basic human-connection-community-kindness asks.

Every time I’ve had the guts to ask for help in this way—the kind of help you don’t pay for… (and ‘tis true that you have to be wise who you ask), it’s felt so good. There is a natural ease. Flow. And every time I wonder: what took me so long?

Solutions: I’ve always thought it would be a beautiful thing to re-create the old ways. To have a chore day with a good friend. Every Wednesday either I come to your house, or you come to mine, and we do each other’s laundry. Dishes. Gardening. And we chat. I recently heard of a woman who bought an RV and who travels around offering her gardening services to friends and friends of friends in exchange for a place to park her vehicle. How lovely is that? Is there any shame in that? Not that I can see. Can you imagine the real and raw conversation that comes along with gardening side-by-side with someone who is there to help you, and for whom you are offering help? Win win.

Expectation: But does every successful ask require a reciprocal? If you ask for listening, loving support from a friend, does that mean that there’s an inherent quid pro quo? I hope not. But I do hope you’d be open to it. Even so…there’s something so powerful in giving without expecting anything back. And something so powerful to receive without knowing that you are expected to give. Can we create that paradigm? Can we be that friend or community member?

Example: My mountain woman musician friend came over the other day, knowing my back was out, and knowing my guitars were long overdue for a re-stringing. How did she know? I asked. She showed up, and before I even knew it, I heard the scrape scrape of a shovel in the hard-crusted snow. A few minutes later, we were making my instruments playable again, and maybe myself too. We laughed and it felt like I was a girl playing hookie from school, no matter what shape my back was in. I felt so truly grateful. The ultimate gift: she expected nothing in return. She genuinely loves to give. It’s always been hard to accept that about her. She’s SO giving! I think with my back out…there was no other choice than to receive. With the glow in her eyes, every time, I know that it’s a gift to both of us. When she says, “You’re welcome,” it comes straight from the core of who she is.

So, knowing this…why is it so hard to apply this You’re Welcome concept to our own asking? I’m sure that’s a job for the therapist too, but I think it’s important to admit the problem collectively, so that we can own it collectively, and perhaps solve it collectively. I mean, not only does it feel good to give, but raise your hand if it makes you feel special too. Smart. Connected. Maybe even wise. Uh-huh.

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

Small story: Recently I spent two hours on the phone with a young poet. A friend of a friend of a friend asked me to speak with him about his future as a writer. He began with so much gratitude and a tinge of, “I’ll make this quick and painless.” But I loved every minute of it. I charge good money for consultations like this. But there was zero resentment. It was given with my whole heart. Why? Sure, I wanted to help my network, and this young man, but it was as if I was speaking to myself at that age. I was giving the young me the help that I wanted so dearly in that time of my life, and yet was too afraid to ask for it. I felt like Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet, and I borrowed from that book as we spoke. In fact, I power-loaded this young poet with so much information, that I think he was the one who wanted the conversation to end. Uncle. Enough. I get it. But I got off the phone feeling so sated. Dutiful. Connected. I’m not sure how he felt, but whether or not he was able to receive all that I gave, I know that I gave this young poet very very good gifts. And I thought, sitting there on my living room couchmaybe in NOT asking for whatever reason…I’m actually depriving people from feeling this exact satisfaction and even elation.

Ask away! So in that spirit…shame and guilt aside, last week I started asking for help for my upcoming book tour. My publisher is doing incredible things on my book’s behalf, but these days, so much of the onus is on the author. So I started to look at my book like a child or a mentee. I want it to find its way, so I shook the shame off of me, and started to ask in the way that I would for my son or daughter or a client or a friend of a friend’s friend’s sister’s god-daughter. And what do you know? I got a world of Yes. A world of kindness, and what I suspect was very much the way I felt in my living room after the phone call with the young poet. And I thought: asking for help can be a tremendous gift to the giftee. Time to let go of a very old story that serves absolutely no one. Again: Have you ever lost respect in someone who asks for help? I haven’t.

Consider this: What I’m coming to find, the more I ask, is that when the right “ask” comes across the right person, it’s a joy for them to help. It feels good to know that something you know about is like manna to someone else. And really think about this: NOT asking…because you’re afraid for whatever reason, can actually deprive others from being given the chance to help.

But…what if they say No?

No doesn’t mean that you’re bad. That you need to take your ball and go home and curl up and never see the light of day again. It just means No. Or whatever it means. It’s really none of your business. If you’ve asked in a responsible way, then the No can be just as responsible. And the Yes can be bright and beautiful—like this perfect universal opening and connection. You need eggs? Well I have chickens! Perfect alignment! You need eggs and I have elephants. Sorry. But I know a gal who has chickens… Or maybe I don’t know a gal who has chickens. But my No is just a No. I don’t have chickens! Good luck and safe travels! Thank you for asking. If you want to go on a safari with me, we’re all set. But please know this: It honors me to think that you think I have chickens. Or know someone who does. See what I mean? I repeat: When we hoard our asks, it actually deprives people of being given the chance to give!

So in the spirit of new beginnings in a new year, here goes: (Gulp. No gulp.)

  • Ask for help. Even if you don’t believe you’re worth it. You might just be giving someone a powerful gift.
  • And when you are asked, please: let the askee know that you are honored. If you say YES, please let them know that you are giving this help freely. That it is your pleasure.
  • If you have to say NO, please be kind and supportive, with good boundaries, of course. Maybe even try to find someone else who can help.
  • And if you say YES, but you really mean NO…that IS a job for the therapist.
  • Be brave. Know that what you need is important. And what you give is important. You don’t have to do this alone.

To my readers: Thank you all for being a kind and safe community. May we spread the love in the ask and in the give. Happy New Year!

Yours,

Laura

I’ll start the “ask” momentum: (with a bit of a cringe, but to walk the talk…)

Would you consider:

Pre-ordering my book

Showing up on my Book Tour (schedule to be announced on my website)

Telling your friends and bringing them to my book events

Hosting an event in your neck of the woods

Sharing about my Haven Writing Programs

Giving to the Haven Foundation to enable those in financial need who long for the opportunity to have this life-changing experience!

What are you going to ask for today?

Yours,

Laura

I will be launching my new website, and announcing my Book Tour so stay tuned…

We’ll be starting in NYC on March 3rd, with Lee Woodruff!

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Sacred Solitude: a holiday date with your vulnerability

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I write a lot about pain. I always have. Writing moves the pain through me and moves me through it. Some of that pain-processing stays in my journal, but a lot of it ends up in my newsletters, blogs, social media posts, essays, and books. Over the years people have asked me why I would be willing to be so vulnerable on the page. If you knew me when I was a child, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’d simply (but not necessarily conveniently) know that’s just how I roll. I get deep satisfaction from speaking my truth and seeing how it gives others permission to do the same. I long for that real and raw connection. I’m allergic to convenient niceties. In other words, if you run into me in the grocery store, don’t ask me how I am unless you really want to know.

When I was in high school, I used to say, “If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, I don’t want to be your friend.” Which either confused or repelled people. Now I get asked to give speeches on the power and necessity of vulnerability. I’m not sure how it happened, (Brene Brown likely had a lot to do with it), but vulnerability is du jour. And it’s good for us. Very very good for us. Here’s proof: the number one comment I get in regard to my writing is this: “Thank you for helping me know that I’m not alone.” When I read those words, and I am lucky enough to read them often, it gives me great calm and purpose too. Yes, it’s scary being vulnerable. It’s scary saying the thing that you’re thinking and feeling, especially when you know that it might leave you judged, misunderstood, disliked. But I have always valued human connection more than popularity. People in my industry have asked me, “What’s your brand? What are you an expert in?” And I always smile and say, “Vulnerability. And maybe perseverance.” I often get a blank stare. But the ones who get it…get it.

Admitting to your inconvenient truths/nasty bits can be a threat, a liability, a weak-link. For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to be treated with kindness and gratitude for it, and whatever criticism might come my way is usually done behind my back, which is better for both of us. (I’m pretty sure I’m an ugly crier. And my skin is about as thick as a Communion wafer). I love feeling like I’m doing good in this world by being vulnerable. Modelling it for others. Showing that it doesn’t make you weak, but rather quite the opposite.

But lately I’ve felt the deep need to draw into myself and “chest my cards” as my grandmother used to say. I’m about to go into hard core book launch, and it will likely consume the next year of my life. I will be out there on the road from coast to coast and in-between in March, and while I’m not the main character in the book this time, promoting its messages will require deep vulnerability. The book stars four women who are engaging in deeply vulnerable conversation in a place far outside their comfort zone. Each is at a major crossroads in her life. None of these women is me. None of these women is anyone I know. All of them are us. And that means…people are going to love it. And hate it. And my little world of women that I’ve lived with for six years, is going to be out in the wide-world with people counting its fingers and toes and deciding if it looks like Yoda or Eisenhower or my great-aunt Eleanor. It’s going to take a lot of energy and courage and self-preservation and stamina and everything that is required of an author on book tour.

So in anticipation of it all…I decided to do a personal experiment for the last six weeks. I sequestered myself at home. Mission: to stare myself down, face-to-face, and see who that woman is these days. It’s one thing to do what I did last year at this time– go to Morocco solo for a month to re-introduce myself to my wonder and sense of adventure. But to do it at home? Alone? I haven’t really tried that. The adventures of an empty, quiet, house with just me, myself, and I, and two adorable loving dogs– (thank God for them)? That sounds much scarier than crossing the ocean and not being able to speak the language. What about the language of self? I wondered: Do I even know what that language is these days, outside of my daily roles?

That’s why I knew I needed to do it. For six weeks I’ve drawn in. I’ve muted myself. I’ve taken to my journal for me and me only. I’ve forced a sort of gag order on myself in public. Which means that I’ve been a social recluse. And it also means that I’ve hardly written a thing professionally… which means that I’ve had to learn how to breathe differently. Suffice it to say that I’ve stayed away from the grocery store. I’ve said no to most every invitation. I spent Thanksgiving in what I called “sacred solitude,” but believe me—there was a lot of Netflix. I hardly touched social media. I let the phone ring and voicemail pick up. I didn’t chat up the Culligan guy. Or the UPS driver. I didn’t really leave my house at all. I went fallow. In other words: I didn’t do no good for nobody. Except for myself. I guess you could say that I was entirely selfish.

It was brutally disorienting. But probably brutally necessary. I needed to get to know myself again. To be vulnerable for just me. Without my usual roles– in-between all things Haven and all things book and all things family…I was dazed and confused. My website is under re-construction. I’m not helping anyone find their voice, write a book, trust a community of kindreds. I’m not exposing myself for any sort of greater good. And frankly…the woman in my living room…was sort of disgusting. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Mostly, I ate a lot of toast with butter. Lots of butter. I stayed up late and slept in late. There was wine involved. I felt sorry for myself. I felt proud of myself. I felt scared and small and even pathetic. And I felt brave and powerful. At times invisible. And at times too visible. It was like low tide, when you find the flip flop you lost last summer, the untethered lobster pot, the tiny bubbles that tell you that there’s a clam in the mud. And you dig in and scoop it all up. I found a lot of my forgotten self in these last weeks. I was deeply real with myself. I saw my most naked self for only me. I highly recommend it.

And then one night, I just said “Enough. I can’t take it anymore. I need human connection. I need my community! I’m going into town. And I’m going to PLAY!”

I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything was technicolor and new. I felt like dancing and singing in the streets and a few times, I did. Joy to the World! All the Christmas lights were up—the same ones that are in the movie, in fact! Every lamppost was festooned in wreaths and snowflakes. Town was bustling with people in restaurants, and the shops were open late. It all looked like an Advent calendar, with windows you want to open all at once because you know that there’s something special inside. I opened a lot of those windows that night. Ran into all sorts of friends—old and new. Belly-laughed. Asked and answered a lot of How are you’s. Entered the land of the living and was grateful for my community connection in a way I haven’t been for a long time.

Turns out, I had to radically refuel myself, against all my usual instincts, in order to find my way back to my place on earth. And at the end of this brilliant night on the town, when I came home to my home—my place of sacred solitude—and my sweet dogs…I felt a deep relief. A deep sense of inner quiet. A sense of deep inner knowing. A sense of deep self-acceptance. And a deep knowing that I can go back into my roles as a writer, an author, a teacher, and a mother with the roots of an inner home.

May this holiday bring you that rooting, wherever you are—with the connections that matter most, especially with yourself.

Here is one of the “windows” I opened that night. Going to use it as my holiday card. Trying to find the right caption. Taking suggestions.

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So far these come to mind:

My Hot Flash made me do it!

The Nutcracker

Elf on the shelf

#naughty

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire

Jingle balls?

Ho ho no!

 

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Community or Netflix: (get off your couch)

She needs to get out more often, don't you think?

She needs to get out more often, don’t you think?

So this is new: going out socially as a single entity. I’ve never really done it. Not in my daily life.  I mean—yeah—to the grocery store, or kids’ sporting events, or whatever quotidian life has required. But socially…I’ve always travelled in some version of a pack. And in that pack, I feel an innate belonging. When I travel, it’s the other way. I’m a solo act and I love it. I love to get that rush of “the world is my oyster. I can do anything I want. In fact, I want to eat oysters! Where’s the best place for oysters in town???” And I get that zingy, buzzy feeling of being at home in the world. A little daring is involved. A little “anything is possible” fuels it. When I was nineteen and traveling all around Europe in trains, I used to adopt new personalities and pretend I was a completely different person. On any train, or in any restaurant, or youth hostel, or pension, I could be a woman running from the law, a college drop-out filled with a Holden Caulfield malaise, a photographer on assignment for National Geographic. I was trying life on for size and it was positively exhilarating.

Not so much now. And not so much in my own back yard. Suddenly, I find myself quite pack-less. A lone coyote yowling in a cold snowy night. Only she speaks English, and she’s standing in my living room, and she’s kinda mean: “Uh—it’s Saturday night, girl. What you gonna do with your bad-ass self? Sit here and watch freaking Netflix and drink wine in your pjs with the dogs in your lap? Again?”15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

“No. Actually. I’m going into town. To a brewery. To hear my friend play guitar. At a local fundraiser. Which makes me cool. And not just because I freaking know a musician…but because I’m freaking altruistic too. So suck it.” I can dish it right back at her, but it never feels very good. I mean, being at war with yourself, as it were. In your living room.

I think we all know that I’m already on the couch, with my finger on the remote control, the dogs looking up at me to invite them up on the couch. My actual pack wants me in it, and they want me here watching The Crown. Apparently they like the smell of wine breath and a proper English accent instead of my midwestern twang.

I sigh and wonder if I’m brave enough to drive the dark, snowy, foggy, black-icy, deer-full country roads. And I get mad at myself for forgetting once again to replace my windshield wiper blades. They suck. And so will I if I spend another night on that damn couch.

So I let the living room lie fallow, and invite the dogs up to my bedroom instead because I need to deal with my hair and my face and put on actual clothing that’s not plaid flannel and tied with a drawstring, and say “yes” to the lovely invitation to go out and make it count. I mean, it’s not like I’m just going into town on a pub crawl. Even though that sounds fun. I haven’t done that in years. I had some solid pack members along the way who lived for a good pub crawl. I miss that sometimes.  But even if I got that wild hair…well, it would be fairly rare to find an Uber driver around here that would want to brave it out to my remote home in the woods. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. And either way, it costs more than my whole night in town costs, so is it worth it to go on that pub crawl? No. And honestly, who wants to go on a pub crawl alone. Maybe in Ireland?Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PM

“No,” I say into the mirror, and my dogs perk up like I’ve just told them we’re going for yet another walk in the wild woods where the mountain lions do NOT hibernate. Which isn’t far from what it will feel like in town on a Saturday night, solo. “I’m going to an event. Where I know the musician. And the money I buy food and drink with goes to a non-profit. That supports at-risk teens!” And I look down into my dogs’ kind, longing eyes. “But it’s true. I’m really wanting to know what happens to Charles and Camilla. Oh. Actually, I do know what happens to Charles and Camilla.”

Suddenly the coyote bellows from the other side of the mirror, and don’t tell anyone, but she looks just like me. “Go to the fund raiser! Put on some clothes and get thee out, woman!”

“Oh, so now I’m a woman, not a girl. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m a girl. I liked being a girl. She knew how to have fun. She wouldn’t be staring into the mirror thinking about how grey her roots are, and how hopefully the dark lighting will make her look like she’s got blonde highlights, not Cruella DeVille skunk stripes.

She bellows again, “God, you suck at being nice to yourself! You’re an extrovert. You come alive around people! You’re starving for human connection! Slap on some jeans and a shirt and your boots, and drive into town! You travelled around Morocco for a month last year alone. I’m pretty sure you can drive five miles of country road and walk into a micro-brewery and listen to some folk music and help a great local cause.”

I sigh and keep this to myself: I wonder if they’ll bring Diana in this season, or if they’ll stay off of her altogether. Such sensitive material. I wonder what the Royals think about The Crown. I wonder if the Queen is funny. They’re all so serious in that show. It sort of wears on me.  I’m glad she has horses and corgis. Maybe I’ll watch the new season of Mrs. Maisel instead. At least that’s funny! I could use a good laugh. I wonder why it only got four stars though. Geez, when did I get so grey? Gotta get that fixed before the holidays.Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.17 PM

Laura.

This text just in: “Hey we’re hanging out wrapping Christmas presents and listening to Christmas music. Want to come over?”

I text back: “Actually…I’m going to a fund-raiser. It’s for a good cause. I know the musician.” Whatever. There was a time in my life when I knew every member of the Grateful Dead. Just not Jerry. No one knew Jerry, really. So that makes me cool, right? How many years can you ride that cool wave? Pretty sure that wave got sucked back out to sea a long time ago.

“Well if you want to stop by, we’d love to have you.”

Huh. I smile and get a warm soup feeling in my belly. Hanging out wrapping Christmas presents feels pack-ish. Maybe I could just throw on my pjs and go to my friend’s house and blow off the fund-raiser. She lives in town. So that counts. Doesn’t it? Not really a crawl, or a good cause, but… I mean, the brewery party is going to be full of couples and families and do-gooders. And I’m not feeling very good. At all.

I swear that coyote me reaches her hand through the mirror and practically pokes my eyes out with the eyeliner stick, and concealer wand, but she’s really damn good at covering up the dark circles. “I admire your work,” I tell her. And she smiles. “Now go have some fun. You need to be around people. A lot of them. And music. You need it like oxygen. You can wrap presents with your friend another day.”

Sigh. I’m grateful for my friend, but I text her. “I’m going to go to this event. But thanks. #snowcheck for sure.” Santa Claus emoji. It occurs to me that she runs a rad non-profit too, so she gets it. Hell, I run one too, for what it’s worth. We’re all trying to do such good in this valley! We have to support one another!

I put the dogs in their beds, and say, “I’ll be back a little later. Protect the house!” And kiss them each on the nose.

And I get in my truck and put on the Charlie Brown Christmas album and take in a deep breath. Why is this so hard? And I think of the comfort and security and belonging that living in a pack brings a person. At least that it brings to me. And with the kids grown up and gone (thank GOD they’re coming home for Christmas), I know that my community is my pack now. And the people who will be at this party…are my oldest friends in my community. It would be reckless and remiss not to share this night with them, however it goes down. And for such a good cause.15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

So, I pull out onto the snowy country road, listening to the jazzy music that was the soundtrack for years of Christmas tree decorating and will be again in a few weeks when my little pack is home. They love it too. Us. Though they have new packs now and I’m glad for that.

The drive is deerless and easy and even cheerful, as I pass the Christmas tree lights in windows of little log houses frosted with snow, and as I spot the first garlands festooned with red bells and tinsel snowflakes, draping over the road, marking the start of town…the road feels like an umbilical cord connecting me to the worldy womb of my little mountain community.

I walk into the party. There is my old friend finishing a song on his guitar, playing Christmas music in his enchanted folky, slightly funky way. He smiles and says my name into the mic, and offers me a hug. I get a beer and sit down to listen to him. There are other friends there too. It’s not missed on me that they’re actors. Writers. Creative, salt of the earth sorts of people that I’ve known for years. We give hugs and make light conversation. We’re here to support our friend who runs the Flathead Valley Youth Home. And after a few hours of fighting back tears, when he gets to pah rum puh pump pum…I let them spill. I need this like I need oxygen. It’s true. My inner coyote isn’t so mean after all. She just knows that it takes some prodding these days. These days of learning how to be my own pack. Coyote is the trickster, after all…IMG_5314

And it’s not lost on me that this night becomes a night sprinkled with holiday magic. Because by the end of it, I am sitting with my musician friend, and my other dear friends, in their home on the side of a mountain, eating spontaneous tamales in front of a woodstove, a towering Christmas tree lighting our conversation. Which is the conversation we’ve been having for almost thirty years: We talk of love. We talk of pain. We talk of truth. We talk about the sacred. We talk of loss. We talk of fear. And we talk some more about love.

It’s midnight. It’s time to drive home. To trace my tracks back down the mountain, back through town, back toward my part of the valley. There are deer. I honk and say what I always say, “Love love love.” And they run back into the woods. I have never hit a deer in twenty-five years of driving this road. Which means…I know very well how to fight fear with love. I just needed a reminder.

But tonight…I’m watching The Crown. In front of my own woodstove. With my dogs. My pack of three. Right where I belong.

May all of you who are fighting the loss of your pack in whatever way: empty nest, divorce, recent break up, death of a loved one, whatever it is…please know that you are not alone. And that you can get up off of your couch. And put on some clothes. And go into town. And find the kind of love you long for. Home is there for you, wherever you go.

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Finding Our So Now What

Willa's Grove

Pre-order Willa’s Grove now! (from your local bookstore, or here)

Book ideas are always coming to me. I’m usually working on a few at the same time and always in different genres—different ways to find the truth. That’s what I’m after: truth. Each book begins with a central question—some quirk of humanity that gnaws away at me. Or something that fills me with righteous indignation, and I burn with it so hot that I have to stop, break it down, and look at it from the inside out. At the root of every book I write…there is the pure longing to understand this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. In our quick-fire, button-pushing world, these sorts of burning questions can easily inspire a rant or a manifesto or land too tidily in Ten Easy Steps or the dread red bow. To me, this approach lacks heart. It is devoid of story, which then fails to build the bridge that as a reader, and writer, I crave. Stories bring us into the collective, hold us there, make us look and feel and maybe even find answers…which of course, beget more questions.

That’s why I love the novel. Out of all genres, the novel imitates and illuminates our stories—yet relieves the burden of reality with a distilled reality. To me, fiction is realer than real. And to me, fiction then unfurls those burning questions in a way that is liberated by possibility. Namely, the possibility of finding an honest answer to the questions that work inside of us like a glass splinter.

We live our lives in questions, and we live them in scenes, with beating hearts around us, especially our own. The question that has driven my life for the last decade is one that I really didn’t think would be central to my life. At all. But my life re-wrote its script, and I’ve caught myself saying over and over again: So now what? Maybe you can relate. Once I started to tune into that question, I heard it everywhere. I heard it from friends, family, and mostly from the people who come to my Haven Writing Retreats. That central question births brawny answers and writing into the answer, whether for yourself or others, is one of the most powerful, healing, hopeful acts I know.

That’s when these characters started calling to me. Willa. Bliss. Harriet. Jane. They called from across the country and from lonely rooms with bleeding hearts. They called out of their shame and lost wonder. They called out of fear and isolation and loneliness and longing. They called to tell me that I am not alone and neither are you. We are in this together. We’ve just forgotten. And that’s why I knew I had to write this book. We need to build bridges to each other. We need to help each other answer our So now what.

I could have written this book as a memoir. I could have written it as a self-help book. But these women called, and I listened, and in giving them voice—sometimes words I didn’t want to write—I found a hole in our humanity. We have lost the gift of conversation. Long, lingering conversation. Where no one is looking at cell phones or watches or thinking about checking off the next item on their To Do list. When is the last time you sat for hours with trusted kindreds and really…I mean really…spoke your truth? Told your stories. For a week. No red bows. No easy steps. No prescriptive advice. No shame or blame. And no fixing. What would that even look like and how on earth would you keep it safe? And…what if you did it far from home…for a whole week? In a quiet, wild place like Montana, say…

That’s what these women asked me. They were relentless. It was dire. They each were staring down the barrel of something you, or someone you love, have experienced. I wrote it once the way I wanted it to go…and then they got louder, and I wrote it again the way they wanted it to go. Six years of listening to and laboring with their questions…and I have Willa’s Grove to give to you in March.

I’m going to miss them. That’s what happens when you live so honestly in the central questions of your life, and when you do it in a community of people you can trust. You relax into warm blankets and rocking chairs and cups of tea by the fire. And you feel safe enough to talk– to really share how you feel and what you fear and what you want with all your heart. These women gave me the answer to my So now what. None of them is “me.” All of them are “us.”

You could argue that in writing this book, I remained in my isolation. In my pain and questions. That I lived in imagined community for six years. But I can tell you that the work I do as a teacher, editor, retreat facilitator, mother, and liver of life was made whole by being in this circle of women. They were my teachers, and we all need our teachers. Thusly, teachers need to be willing to be the student, so the writing of this novel, then, schooled me like nothing I have ever written. (And believe me…there are a lot of books in my office closet that will never see the light of day because I wasn’t ready to be exactly this student.)

Here’s what’s possible when we write so purely from our heart: One day, I was walking in the snowy forest and I came upon a gorgeous aspen grove. As Willa tells the women, an aspen grove is one organism. And it is not lost on them that by the end of their week together, they are one such grove. Hence the title. So when I saw this grove, its black veins so defining against its alabaster trunk and branches, all set against the Montana snow…I stopped. Smiled. Thought, Oh, the women would love a photo of this aspen grove. And I took off my mitten, unzipped my parka pocket, pulled out my phone, took a few photos, and then looked for the text feed that surely must exist between the women of Willa’s Grove and me. Surely. And then I blinked and laughed out loud and said, “My god! They don’t exist!” Call me crazy. Or call the exactitude of story-telling one mighty form of self-expression. One mighty answer to one mighty question. One mighty supplicant-splay on the altar of truth.

It is my hope that people will read this book and think, “I want to host my own Grove week. I want to sit in this circle. I need to sit in this circle. I need to find my So now what. And I promise you, there are three other people out there in your world…who do too. They just might be hiding, pretending, smiling in the grocery store when their hearts are breaking. Ask them. As the book begins…You are invited to the rest of your life.

Love,

Laura

As seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

***Now booking the February Haven Writing Retreat

…and it’s filling fast!

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (filling fast!)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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