I’ve always loved writing and at an early age, aspired to become a writer, when, in the fourth grade, I wrote a story entitled Timothy the Mouse, and filled an entire composition book with his adventures. In the eighth grade, I was called out of class and into the hallway by my English teacher who thought I had plagiarized a story. The same thing happened after I turned in a poem I had written.
In college, I would have majored in English, had it not been for the thoroughly dismal, absurdly boring, dry-toast sort-of-a-professor, whose class I would have needed for the major. Barely making it to the break, I ran out of the room, across the quad, down the steps to the “Precambrian Basement”, and declared myself a Geology Major instead. My hopes were to become the next John McPhee, but somehow life has a way of leading you along a different path and you temporarily misplace those dreams, substituting them for other dreams, sometimes even for other people.
Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who didn’t fall for the trappings of love and security, and forged your own path, or maybe you were like me, who fell for all of it, only to find yourself many years later, looking at the big 5-O hovering on your doorstep, three beautiful children and one ugly divorce later, wanting to rediscover your dream. Having told your children they could do, or be, anything they wanted in life, and the only way of accomplishing it, was to be true to themselves, and listen to their inner voice, they were doing just as you taught them.
That’s where I was last April when I read Laura Munson’s email about having an opening in one of her Haven retreats in Cabo. At the time, I felt as if I were doing just the opposite of what I had told my children. They were the ones living life to the fullest. They were the ones being true to themselves.
So, with a valid passport, notebook and pen in hand, I headed south, away from frigid, grey Chicago days, and into the tropical bliss that is Mexico. Unsure if I could write anything more entertaining than a business letter, I began. Thoughts began to unwind their way across the page. With Laura’s guidance, my inner/sitting-on-my-shoulder critic, began to sit back and drink in the scenery, leaving me alone long enough to record my mind’s meanderings, sometimes soaring high above the canyon, other times deep within it. I waited, and I wrote, no judgment, only acceptance, only love.
I returned, transformed, more confident in my written voice, still somewhat timid in my actual voice. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and yet, my practice once again began to diminish. Packing, unpacking, laundry, graduations, work, business letters, dishes, life, started intruding into my Haven, my Utopia, and my practice ebbed a little further. There were never enough hours in a day, and yet I knew I had to write, but I didn’t, though I continued to tell myself I would, soon.
Fifty came upon me in September, and I had planned to hike part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, at the end of October. In preparation, I walked as much as I could, knowing I had some pretty major obstacles (knees, feet, toe nails) to either overcome, or embrace.
While I didn’t exactly embrace the obstacles, instead, I created a blog, and though warned by my infinitely wise nephew, not to be so “plugged in” whilst on the Camino, I wrote, almost everyday, and the writing (along with some pretty intense prayer), is what pulled me through. I traveled all the way to Spain, walked 7-8 hours a day for roughly 9 days, only to discover that there are enough hours in a day, and that life can be set aside for 30-60 minutes to do something you truly enjoy, and that others truly enjoy as well, at least that’s what my blog readers told me.
SO NOW WHAT?
by Carolyn Hopper
I gave myself the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat. So. Now. What?
The aroma of spiced words, the glow of firelight, the kiss of mist rising off the lake at dawn are embedded in the sweater I wore for the entire retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch. I sink my nose in the cream nap of its wool. One sharp inhale. Another. Panic sinks in. No words rise. Only the laughter of 10 women dancing around the hearth.
I had counted on my senses staying sharp to help me coax words for the “next”? while I drove along the highway beside Flathead Lake on my journey home. But edges, like the riffles on a wind-whipped lake surface, have a way of softening.
I had counted the words and mists and warmth of the fire, I believed embedded in me at Retreat to stay sharp. Those edges too, softened. Oh, I dabbled into my almost finished story like a mallard probing the lake bottom for juicy morsels. I found a few, bland, like cream sauce. Studied Laura’s notes on the pages I had sent ahead for editing. My notes after our one-on-one. I did feel inspired and fired up for a few…weeks. But October turned golden. I basked in the glow and shimmer of aspen leaves as they flicked their leaves like castanets. Cottonwoods were ablaze in topaz and copper. I printed out my story so I could give it a good read. It gathered dust.
Until Thanksgiving. And turkey enchiladas molé. When this writer woke up. To bare trees sweeping the waxing moon like exotic brooms and winter blooms in a crazy seesaw of freeze and thaw. One day my teeth are on edge and the next I can’t stop imagining how my story, a braided complex of my mother and I during the last year and a half of her life, could end.
And I begin to imagine how the shape of the spy novel that I set aside three years ago might find new life.
Nuts roast, spices toast, chilés soak. In all there are twenty-six ingredients from the onions that stung my eyes to the sweetness of raisins that mix and mingle and are then stirred with great care over a low flame My mouth waters at the memory of the preparation and day-after-Thanksgiving meal. I had no idea that a traditional Mexican dish served to this white woman from New England could be a catalyst more powerful than a kiss for awakening a sleeping writer!
The instructions for preparing a molé are, of course, not the same as preparing my story. But attention to detail, creating a evocative sense of “this is where I want to bring my reader”, and a willingness to let the ingredients blend and surprise, are for me!
So. Now. What?
Shedding my shoes before the burning bush. A willingness to probe my heart for the bold woman who began the story of her mother and herself with more grit than confidence! Resolving to take my own advice when asked by women who have stories worth telling but haven’t found the pen or pencil to write them down—“dive in!”
And after the fire? Reaching for the gold coins that lie at the bottom of the well.
You Gave Yourself a Haven Retreat: So Now What.
by Michele McShane
My first retreat, ever. I responded to the call of going to Montana for a writer’s retreat last October out of pure serendipity. Maybe a truer statement is that it was one-hundred-percent pure nagging… by the Universe.
Laura Munson was the guest on Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House Radio show. The topic was interesting to me, but I needed groceries and headed off to the store. When I came back, barreling into the house with too many bags, Laura was in the middle of telling the story of how the Haven Retreat started. I remember what I heard caught my attention, but “life” was demanding that I attend to more of it. I slammed my MacBook shut. Work needed to be done. Something or another. I wasn’t even to going to continue writing my novel. Later that evening, I opened my laptop, and unbelievably, Laura’s interview was still running in my cache. Christiane was saying something along the lines of “You thought there should be a retreat that wasn’t simply about critiquing, but one that allows writer’s space to open up their voices and you did it.” Even though I liked what I was hearing, I was more than a little annoyed that technology was not letting me off the hook. Laura’s comments were tough to dismiss. I don’t remember her particular comments as much as the power in her voice when speaking about writers and the need for space in which their words could simply fill the airwaves and be heard without commentary. Universe calling or not, I was exhausted, closed the lid, and fell sound asleep. Son of a bitch, the next morning, I opened the little Pro and, yes, the interview started to play right where it left off. Now, I may be slow in reading signs, but this was indisputable, full on Las Vegas neon style. The retreat was not going to be denied, even if I hadn’t even asked the question. So, now you have some idea about how I roll. Needless to say, I signed up that day.
The time spent with the group was simply fantastic, extremely valuable and it stoked a million thoughts about what I was doing and what I had thought I should be doing to become a bona fide professional writer. The questions since then have been more important than any answers I may think I have. So now what?
The best part of this “so now what” phase has been that as a result of the Haven Retreat, I have experienced a new sense of what writing actually means to me. I write because I am alive when I write. Time is no longer relevant to the equation. Writing puts me in the present, whether real or fictional. Seeing my imagination morph from an intangible, formless notion into a character with definition, meaning, a life and a family, gives my life dimension and is enough. It is not so much about “end product” anymore. The things I write ultimately change the way I think and not vice versa. The process is the changer.
Since the Haven Retreat, I am happy writing a few paragraphs, thinking of a character’s habit or spending five minutes scribbling down lines in answer to a prompt. This may not sound earthshattering to you, but it is a lot more than you may think. I am continually reminded of Nora Ephron’s quote, “The hardest thing about writing is writing.” It is so true. These tiny, seemingly insignificant actions are writing. They contribute tremendously to deepening my writer’s voice. For me, that is “what” for now. And, I have Laura Munson to thank for that.