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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #9: Finding your Voice

Being passionate for our safety first is our bottom line non-negotiable.  Maybe then, pain wouldn’t have to be gain.  And walls would become doors, and pain would become passion and possibility.  And I’d like to think that a little writing along the way helps…At Haven, I teach people to find their voice, their passion, their sustainability through writing, in whatever form they choose. I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice, but what does it really mean?

Here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression. Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #17: Beyond Silence by Caroline Hemphill

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After tucking us in to bed, my mother would bring a bottle of wine and a glass down to the basement, shutting the door behind her so we wouldn’t hear her sobbing. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, given six weeks to live. My brother and I would sneak down to the kitchen and press our spying ears against the basement door. If I skated across the floor in my footed pajamas, my brother waved me back. We kept vigil, knees on the chessboard linoleum.

For a year after her death, I barely spoke. My voice seemed buried with hers. I was shy of life, timid, afraid to breathe. Writing was a way to become real. Over the years, I practiced all kinds of lives on paper. I wrote stories in the voices of animals. I wrote pastoral poetry while living in a trailer. In college, I went to plays, trying to figure out how to bait a line like Tennessee Williams:

Margaret: Y’know what I feel like, Brick? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Brick: Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it, cats jump off roofs and they land on their four feet uninjured!

I wrote poems where it snowed and snowed. I copied other writers, their confidence, their daring. I wanted to be a writer but it felt like pretending. I wore concrete shoes. I typed with my eyes closed.

One morning, I woke from a nightmare that my boyfriend had run off with my best friend. I told him the dream over pancakes. It was real, I said. I’m here. With you, he said, annoyed. Within six months, he had stolen my truck and driven all night to bed her. I can’t blame him—she was beautiful—and I can’t blame her—she was beautiful. It freed me, and I am glad, now, though not about the truck. That experience told me to trust my dreams so I started to write them down. Chagall painted his dreams. Mary Shelley, Stephen King. Dreams allowed me to go further into the woods than I would venture in daylight. Within a few months of writing down my dreams and working the images into lines, I published my first poems.

When I write, I try to kick that basement door open. I take an ax to it. I run down the stairs to my mother. And she is never there. In reality, the door had no lock. I tried once to turn the tarnished brass knob. My brother grabbed my wrist. Listen, he whispered, and we pressed our ears to the door.

Before I could piece together my memory, I had to hear the silence after my mother stopped crying. I had to allow it to flood and erase everything in its wake. I became driftwood, an empty bottle, a plastic bag pulled by the current. Silence wins. But there is something on the other side of silence. It’s startling and sudden and not yours to keep like a piano spilling onto the street. The whole world is a door.

 - Caroline Hemphill

 

 

Essay #18: I Will Stand Up by Lauren Dembo Menis

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Here is my promise to you. I will stand up.

As a Jewish, South African woman, I have never felt the sting of racism or hate. I have been part of the oppressor class, and I carry that with me each day as a burden of guilt. I watched through a child’s eyes as my society, empowered by the rule of law, treated an entire race of people as a different class. I am no longer that child. And I will no longer stay silent. I will stand up.

Throughout my childhood, I saw my beloved Ray-Ray, a woman whose only choice, which is no choice at all, was to work as a live-in maid, to cook and clean for my family and to raise me while seeing her own daughter only once a year. I watched as she hid under the bed while policemen banged on the door, ready to take her away if she didn’t have the right stamps in her passbook. I saw her “home” in the back of our house, a room with a concrete floor, a bed and not much more. To Ray-Ray I promise that though I did not before, I now will stand up.

To Liz Thompson, whom I know only from a Facebook post, who held her purse and her tongue on the New York city subway while a man spewed his vile racism at her, while everyone around sat mute, I say this. I will stand up.

To those of you who were there, who watched as she was berated and did not stand up, I say you are complicit. Whether you were stopped by fear or civility or just shock, whether you are still adjusting to this new world where people suddenly feel they are allowed to bring their prejudices and hatreds from the darkness within which they reside out into the light, know that there is no longer room for complacence. This is not a time for silence. We must act. We must stand up for those among us who are targeted. Never mind that it could be you next. That is not the point.

The thought of Ms. Thompson, holding her purse and her words while her tormentor was allowed to rant, will not leave me. I wish you bystanders had stood up. Because it is no longer okay not to. And so I make this pledge to you. I will not stay silent. I will not watch as anyone is threatened or treated like they don’t belong or made to otherwise feel less than. I will use my voice, my words, everything I can to speak up for you.

To my Muslim friends and those in my community, when I hear someone tell you you are not American, that you don’t belong here, that your religion is not acceptable to them, I will stand up.

Last week, when the words of anti-Muslim hate allegedly from a city employee were captured from a Facebook post, we fought together. Through emails and phone calls and research, we spoke up. And we won.

To the self-hating bottom-feeder from my home state of Georgia who posted an ad for a barbecue grill as a “Jewish baby stroller,” while you are not really worth it, hiding behind your screen, you have been outed. You are nothing. And we will not let you win.

I am not poor. I am educated. I have white skin. And while I am suddenly aware of my Judaism like no other time before, it is not something you can see on me. But I will not be silent. Passivity is no longer an option.

To the man in the East Atlanta coffee shop who took a photo of the woman in the hijab and then called her names, she stood up. She videoed him and outed him. He was identified and shamed. And this is what it takes.

And so I ask you – who are you going to be in the strange new America we now live in? No time before in my lifetime has the cliche that there is strength in numbers been more true and more of a call to action. I heed that call because numbers start with one. We have marched and we have made phone calls and we have commiserated about the madness. But we must, as individuals, fight for each other. Because each act of hatred that is faced, each time a person who feels they have permission to engage in repulsive behavior is called out, is a victory for our humanity. The small acts are as important as the larger ones. We must stand up.

 - Lauren Dembo Menis

 

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #8: Finding your Voice

 

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out. 

The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #15: Why I Write by Carol Howard-Wooton

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We arrived at a Youth Hostel somewhere between Banff and Jasper at 4 pm. I claimed my mattress in the girls’ dorm and returned to my three-speed Raleigh bike to retrieve the green spiral notebook from one of the saddlebags. Finding a quiet place with enough light, I wrote about exuberant physicality – pedaling as fast as I could downhill chased by a snorting bear cub – escaping danger by what I now call grace. Back then, it was yet a another wonder I had to write about. Equal to the first time I washed my hair in a crystal clear waterfall, or that I was fine with only the clothes that fit in two small saddlebags, or that time Eddy, the cute older trip leader and I stood beside one another on an alpine slope, right after a thundershower – our eyes riveted by the danger that did not befall us and a luminous sunset-pink sky between two distant mesas. And I got the guy! I didn’t dare tell anyone, not even my best friend. It was Private. Writing captured awe, wonder, and heart-throbbing longing, and protected me from the stinging shame that always followed even good-natured teasing. I thought I was smart to not be stupidly trusting enough to speak my truth.

That little green book is safely packed in a box in my closet. Every time I hold it I am reminded of my Dad who worked in hot NYC that summer to pay the bills, and the generous, wise parts of my Mother who let me go on that first adventure where I formed my inner self through writing “in-ventures.”

Deep Time opened up again at age 38 after a stroke knocked me off the express train to success by 40. I wrote because I had time – lots of it. And was alone more than I’d ever been. I couldn’t drive. I wrote because I could. And, I was fascinated by being this bewilderingly strange me in a new body and brain. I’d watch and feel my hand slowly move across a blank white page. I’d try one kind of pen, then another, or a different color ink. I was doing something! I’d watch the hand that still knew how to form letters and mostly how to spell words. Words that represented my inner knowing even when it was so hard to walk down and then back up 32 stairs at our San Francisco flat. I wrote because I could hardly work. I wrote to name, feel, explore, understand who I was now and what all the loss meant. I wrote because, even with all the disability and uncertainty, I felt safe – held by an abiding love. I wrote because I was amazed the stroke led me to my life’s work: leading groups for Folks with Strokes.

The first poem of my own I dared read aloud wrote itself through me. On the last morning of a retreat on a mesa above the Pacific ocea for patient-oriented holistic medical professionals, our guide invoked the spirit of service that had called us together. She invited us to write prayers for our work. Spirit, voice, mind, heart, hand and service aligned. I trembled as my shy wisdom voice read. I looked up into the shining eyes of those whose arms helped me climb up from the beach the day before. I was whole here. Our guide called a few months later to ask permission to include my poem in a book she was editing. I said yes. You can find “Group” in Wounded Healers, edited by Rachel Naomi Remen.

 - Carol Howard-Wooton

 

Essay #16: Finding Your Voice by Patricia Viscione Young

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In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It it will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

- Patricia Viscione Young

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #7: Finding your Voice

 

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Writing holds me together and always has.  I have said many times, “Don’t wait for the rug to get ripped out from underneath you to find your passions.  When I went through re-invention 101, I’m glad that my passions were in a row, even if my ducks weren’t.” 

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #13: by Pamela Price

It seems like I have always had a voice. The stage was small and dusty in my elementary school auditorium when I approached the microphone for the first time to sing. I was nine and my fellow classmate was a short, dark-haired little guy who was a wiz at the piano. I can clearly see his round face, small hands and endearing smile encouraging me even after all these years. The crowd was maybe 50 people. It felt like a thousand. We performed a stirring rendition of Moon River. When it was over, the audience clapped…very loudly. And I will never forget that feeling.

I always had my music to express myself. I sang for the next 50 years, but I always sang someone else’s words. They were great and inspiring words to be sure but someone else’s words. All the words that were in my head, my words, just stayed there churning in a washing machine cycle that never hit spin.

One day I picked up Laura Munson’s book. I read it from cover to cover and then read it again. This was a voice that spoke to me. This New York Bestselling author actually had a “voice in her head.” She gave the voice a name and listened to it….double wow. Oh my goodness, I was not the only one! I searched the internet. I found her blog. I read about the Haven retreats. I thought….and thought. Could it actually be true that everyone has a writing voice?

It took several years before I convinced myself to call Laura. I just kept thinking about the words “you don’t have to be a writer to attend a retreat, just a seeker.” I identified with the seeker and secretly was excited about the writing. I was ready for a step out of my comfort zone.

My heart was beating so fast, I thought the person sitting next to me could hear it. I thought if it didn’t slow down, it could actually turn into a medical event as I sank into that big sofa in the sunroom at the Haven retreat. I hoped the big pillows would just swallow me.

It was my turn to read what I had written. The room was dead still, no sounds except for that damned pounding in my chest. A room of faces stared at me in anticipation. I read my paragraph and heard an unfamiliar voice. Not a confident, well rehearsed singing voice but a shaky, squeaky voice. A voice that had one thing going for it…it was finally attached to my own words. Words that came from me, from my brain, from my soul and had somehow ended up on that piece of paper in front of me.

I have notebooks with endless pages of words. I have files on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone. I try to write something almost every day even if it is only an email or a note. I practice with words. I read with a highlighter. I am no longer overwhelmed by those thoughts in my head. They are my voice, and I let them tumble onto a page. I read them, throw out some of them and cherish others.

I haven’t decided what to do with all these words but the picture is coming into focus. I find my best self in them, parts of me I didn’t know existed. Some things I like, some things, not so much. I am no longer afraid to write or that  my writing is not worthy. I have found a different voice from my musical one…my own.

- Pamela Price

 

 

Essay #14: Reckoning with Janteløven by Colleen Brennan

Finding my writing voice suggests I had one to begin with. Suggests I lost it. Maybe along a washboard road somewhere. And then found it. Perhaps in the ditch, floating in the run-off after a sudden downpour.

Truth is, every time I sit down at my writing desk I’m in search of that voice. Sometimes it shows up right away, like a pack of bison in the road. Sometimes it dawdles and I have to wade out into the tallgrass prairie to look for it, hoping a rattlesnake doesn’t bite me when I bend over to pick it up.

My ancestors were Norwegian homesteaders who built houses out of buffalograss sod in the Dakotas. When the wind chill is 40 below and you’re tracing the clothesline at night with your mitten to get from the back door to the outhouse, you wanna yell for help. Or at least grumble a little. Uff-da. But you don’t. Because no one will hear you in the deafening wind. And no one will applaud your success in having made it to the “pit” and back. It’s just the way it is. It’s Janteløven, the law of Jante, the principle that you are nothing special, no smarter, no better than the rest of the folks around you. You suck it up and keep going.

With this sort of upbringing, can you see why it might be hard for me to claim a unique writing voice? We weren’t supposed to believe we had a unique anything.

But what I’ve learned from Janteløven is just how much noise there is in silence. There’s a voice there, too. My voice. I was bashful, but I noticed things. Like the tiniest arch in my mother’s left eyebrow when she disapproved. Like the Bing Crosby-ish timbre my dad’s voice took on when he won at cribbage. Or how we didn’t call Harald “Uncle” Harald even though he lived with Aunt Astrid.

I was a little kid the first time I heard my writer’s voice. Slogging up McClelland hill in my plaid sneakers to the empty lot to hunt for agates, I discovered creating dialogue in my head made the hill climbing easier, made being alone less lonely. I spoke in both voices: a brother and sister living in a boxcar. (Oh, yes, I stole those characters from Gertrude Warner’s The Box-Car Children. No doubt I’d just finished reading that story, splayed out on the grass inside a teepee – a blanket thrown over the clothesline, you know what I mean.)

I took to writing in a diary. My first one had a tiny gold lock and key and I kept it in a box in my closet. If I couldn’t talk about my fear that the Abominable Snowman would step on our house and kill all of us, or about my crush on the red-headed boy who lived across the creek, or about how I hoped my piano teacher would fall down the stairs so I didn’t have to play at the recital, at least I could write about it.

It’s tough hanging onto my writing voice. Janteløven hovers close by, whispering stuff like “Just who do you think you are?” And I have to once again wade out into the tallgrass, or grasp onto the clothesline in a blizzard, or trudge up to the empty lot (where I imagine agates lay gleaming below the gravel surface) and retrieve what I lost. But once I have it again, I can stand up to Janteløven and answer truthfully, “I’m a writer with something important to say. Listen up.”

 - Colleen Brennan…website coming soon!

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with a waiting list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #6: Finding your Voice

The truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake. And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #11: How Writing Helped Me Give Words to the Voices in My Head by Kris D. W. Ferrell

I hear voices, but not the voices that spawn pea soup spewing type movies. No, I hear the voices of squirrels named Alfred, of dogs named Smooch, of Christmas trees name Dougie; I see conversations between paperweights, desks, chairs and robot clocks, I color in vowels and paint in prepositions and dangle participles all over the place to speak my truth. I could tell you more of what it is like to live in my head but it is better to show you.

My story begins with nine strangers in a Montana yoga studio. I am not sure what sort of rift in the universe brought us all to that exact moment in time and space to sit together on the floor and discuss our intentions for attending a retreat at the Haven. Nevertheless, we shared our desires for writing, our intentions for the retreat and our motivation for sitting cross legged 45 years after it went out of style. I said I came to “break the back of my inner critic” and “finish a book” I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month three years earlier. I was determined to move forward at all costs.

Like many attorneys, my novel languished in a file on my computer, the cursor blinking, always blinking, always B-L-I-N-K-I-N-G. It blinks at me even now keeping steady time like a metronome, daring me to delete what I have just written. I pump my fist and say, “damn cursors, you dainty devils delivering distraction and disappointment,” and come back to reality. In five days at the Haven outside the town of Whitefish, Montana, I broke through and found my voice. I also found my aversion to kale runs pathologically deep.

The first day of stretch writing I told myself “go with it” I heard “trust the process” so I squared my shoulders and wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote because the promise was support without criticism. I read my ‘writing’ and for the first time to someone other than my dog and I heard validation, appreciation and acceptance. On the second day, I discovered my process is a lack of process, I shouted “move me, shake me, make me write bad poetry” and produced a poem that made my wife cry when I gave it to her this past Christmas. And on the third day the stone was removed and I emerged flying by the seat of my pants, my shorts hanging out and my hair on fire. I shouted to my middle school English teacher, the one who said I could not write, could not speak, had nothing to say and needed to make sure I sat more ladylike “screw you and your toenail clipped wig collection, yes I can, yes I can, yes I do and screw you and your ladylike bourbon breath, I don’t want a process or to be processed or to be processing or to be you.” I shouted to those nine kindred souls in that yoga studio on the final day, okay I didn’t shout because it is a yoga studio after all, but I did proclaim I write to misbehave!

Now the process sometimes feels stalled and forced and hard and gritty. But the best part is I write to misbehave and misbehaving is hardly ever work for me!

- Kris D.W. Ferrell

 

 

Essay #12: Becoming Reliable by Michelle Roberts

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“Come on. They won’t mind. I just want to show you my cubicle.” I ushered my friend into the building. He’d been the one who took my frantic call and offered me his couch. As if mania allowed for actual rest.

We walked in through the publications department. These were the writers and graphic artists I mingled so easily with compared to my fellow engineers. I stopped at the first desk.

“Shannon! Hi! This is my friend Paul. I lost my virginity to him in college. Funny, I never thought about that. My first middle school crush was a Paul, sex for the first time was with a Paul and then I married a Paul. Huh”, smiling at her as if she shouldn’t be surprised to see me while I was on medical leave.

I don’t remember her reaction or Paul’s. Hate to think of it even now. My memories of those months before and after my hospital stay are disjointed. Manic me is the definition of the unreliable narrator.

When I met with a new therapist years later, I had changed jobs and was managing my bipolar symptoms without medication.

She asked, “What do you do when you’re manic?”

“Well, I’m more social. I go dancing. I write. I paint. I exercise.”

“Do you think maybe mania is your binge on all the things that are missing from your everyday life?”

She was right. Even though there were early signs in high school of hypo-mania and mild depression, it wasn’t until engineering took me away from dance, creative writing and art that my symptoms became severe. When I was manic, I uncaged my creativity like an animal rights activist freeing animals. I let loose and later lived with the shame of the things I said and did. Knowing those were just the things I remembered.

After my hospital stay, I stopped talking or writing about anything personal or meaningful. I was still mortified by my unhealthy voice and didn’t trust myself with what I might say or the emails I might send.

Then, in 2012, I read a Call for Submissions for the Haven Winter Blog Series. The theme was Breaking Points and I finally put that week in the hospital into words. Ten years later, even my closest friends and family had never asked what it was like in a Behavioral Health facility. Most people hope they’ll never know.

I read my submission to my therapist at my next appointment while I was waiting to find out if it would be selected. She was sure that it would. I remember sharing it with my mother over the phone and I cried when I opened the email from Laura Munson confirming it would be posted the following day.

I’d used my most authentic voice to describe the scariest thing I’d ever experienced and it connected with others in ways I hadn’t in a long time. Mania convinced me I was too much for most people to handle. I started to accept that might be a lie.

This past October I attended Haven Writing Retreat. Sharing in a room with other writers, I realized mania was a binge for my voice almost fifteen years too soon. In my early thirties I wasn’t ready to speak from my truth, be heard or bear witness for other truth tellers. Now at forty-five, I understood that being open is healing, if also a little terrifying, and our voices are meant to be heard. This special retreat in Montana is called Haven because it’s a safe place to begin.

- Michelle Roberts

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #5: Finding your Voice

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Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats both to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

People often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice. 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #9: Hearing Voices by Christine Watkins Davies

 

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My tea steeps in my favorite mug as I glance at the chaos throughout my home.  I’m too overwhelmed by the half-deconstructed Christmas decorations to make a move toward them.  I prefer to be still, staring at my tea allowing its rich aroma to soothe my thoughts this morning.  Instead of attacking the clutter in my usual “get it done” manner, I decide to write.  There’s much on my mind.

I’ve been thinking about my voice this morning and the multitude of ways in which I’ve used my voice powerfully, and the multitude of ways I’ve used it to keep me safe.

My powerful voice stands in front of groups of people presenting new ideas and concepts to them. My wish is that they leave my presentation with a new practice or idea that could help them live happier, healthier lives.  My safe voice uses the word “spouse” in front of them in order to stay safe.  I don’t always know who is in my audience, and I do not know if they would approve of the fact that I’m married to a woman.  I need to stay safe.  My powerful voice cowers.  She lingers over insignificant details in an effort to thwart too personal a question for this lesbian, yet simultaneously allowing me to look confident.

My powerful voice sings with pride that I was born a woman.  There is nothing I cannot or should not do based on the gender with which I was born.  My safe voice often times stays silent when I hear men make degrading or shaming comments about women in their lives.  “I’m the exclusion” my safe voice tells me.  “I’m sure he wouldn’t say that about me.”  My safe voice tries to comfort me, but my powerful voice knows the truth.

My powerful voice announces to the world that I cherish and respect all religious beliefs and cultures.  “Who am I to judge someone of a differing faith?” my powerful voice projects.  My powerful voice stands with Jewish friends for a public menorah lighting ceremony even with the risk of being in harm’s way.  My safe voice stays silent about the fact that my daughter was born Muslim and that we’ve celebrated her Muslim born name and birth country since the day we adopted her.  “I need to keep her safe in these trying times,” my safe voices whispers as my stomach quivers.

I don’t like my safe voice. It hides my authenticity. It candy coats the details. It buries my pride.

I never thought about the difference in my voice until I began writing.  Writing for me is a way for my safe voice to feel more empowered.  Writing is also a way for me to begin to hear my own voice.  It’s the tool I can use to extravert my thoughts, ideas and feelings out into the world.  Finding my voice in the woods of Montana at a Haven Writing Retreat has given me the permission I needed to hear to stand boldly in my authenticity and share my voice with the world.  To model for my clients, my friends, my family, and mostly my daughter what it looks and feels like to stand in my integrity.  What it feels like to be heard.

I still listen to my safe voice.  Oftentimes, there’s wisdom in her whispers.  But, I’m learning to ask myself if her words are there to keep me safe…or simply keep me small.  There’s more wisdom in this awareness than in her conformity.

Right now, I’m listening to my powerful voice.  I better finish my tea and get these Christmas decorations packed away.

- Christine Watkins Davies  (website Coming Soon!)

 

 

Essay #10: The Voice Effect by Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

 

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“Finding your voice,” or my voice, or anyone’s voice, is a well-worn phrase, a little like “be your best self,” “on a journey,” and “impact.” Everything has a big impact, from a new puppy to your toenail polish. What happened to a big effect or consequence? And everything seems to impact everything else, from a snowstorm to a rodeo. What happened to affect? Worse yet, some things are “impactful.”

After the presidential election last November, my distraught 9-year-old granddaughter asked, on the car ride to hula class, “But what can I do?”

Her mother answered, steady at the wheel, “There might come a time when you can be the voice for someone who needs you.”

Her 6-year-old sister piped up from the back seat, “And Mama doesn’t mean a person who can’t talk. She means people who maybe can’t stand up for themselves.”

I was reminded to get my nose out of the air and think about that stifled or hushed or emerging voice that someone brave is developing. It was time to get over myself and let others be their best selves or begin a journey or find the movie impactful.

When my husband of 32 years left, I lost half of a good part of me. I lost the one I returned home to and told stories of the day. I told him about the woman on the train who asked a stranger to escort her two-year-old to Sacramento while she got off in Portland. I lost the one I told about my 7-year-old student whose father sat on her mother on Mother’s Day. “And he’s BIG,” Shayla told me. “My mom ran out of breath.”

I missed the daily exchange, and in its place, I began to email my adult daughters in distant places. “I should like to tell you about trapping four mice in the kitchen in the last week and forgetting the trap in the oven before I turned it to 350 to bake lasagna.”

My voice took hold on paper, but I knew I wasn’t “good enough” to be a real writer. I can’t compare to painting in poetry like Mary Oliver. I don’t create characters like Carol Bly or Alice Munro, and I have no idea how to build suspense like Stephen King. Who would want to read my words when they have countless rewarding authors?

My daughters were so responsive to my weekly reports, however, that I wrote successive ones. By the time I completed 15 pieces, I was signed up for Haven I.

As I prepared to leave Haven the following September, I jumped off the swing with the long arc that overlooks a pond floating in geese. I was dragging my feet at leaving this sanctuary in tamarack and pine. When my ride arrived, spitting gravel in the driveway, I turned to thank Laura again for an extraordinary experience. She responded, “You’re a very good storyteller.”

There was a smile in my voice as I said, “I’ll be back.” The next week, I signed up for Haven II.

 

- Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #4: Finding your Voice

As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

 Please enjoy these essays by Haven Alums as the ‘Finding Your Voice’ series continues… and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #7: The Healing Power of Finding my Voice by Laura Probert

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“I don’t want to be married anymore,” I said. Only I wasn’t sure the words had come out, out loud. The look on his face confirmed. I’d just found the voice I’d suffocated for years. I liked her and she scared me a little. Everything was about to change.

Journaling my stories of pain, desires for freedom and ideas about healing core wounds that probably started this mess was therapeutic. Sharing those stories with a small blog audience; powerful. Having the courage to write them for online sites; crazy and magnificent. My voice, once expressed was a thing to behold and one of the biggest teachers of my life.

“Are you sure?” he said. And I was. But having to speak my clarity out loud to him created a challenge I hadn’t expected. Speaking the words, my truth, my revelations, out loud to the world made them real. And today it was about as real as any of my prior days on the earth had been. “Yes, I’m sure,” I squeaked, the sound of the words not as sure as when I had written them in my journal.

We sat on the patio with the sliding door closed and I looked over my shoulder frequently to see if the kids were paying attention. Finding the courage to say the words was excruciating enough without having to wonder if the kids would understand. I could tell when we were done, spent from the emotion and energy it took to convince the other they were wrong, that telling the kids would be easier than this.

I found my journal that night and flipped to the pieces I needed to remind myself of. I read the familiar hand writing and listened to the voice of the woman on those pages who was so very sad. I called my best friend, the one who’d known us as long as there’d been an us. “You’ve never been truly happy,” she dutifully reminded me. “This has been going on for a really long time,” she continued. As I listened my heart softened slightly.

This time I was clear. I’d sorted out all the fear and doubts, daily, 750 words a day. I wrote until my hand cramped and clicked until my elbows complained. Until one of the keys on my keyboard threatened a revolt. I’d satisfied the ache in my gut and convinced myself staying would hurt the kids more.

Five mediation sessions later we were legally separated. Our life in thirty pages of tiny black and white. “It was a pleasure working with you both. This was one of the easiest situations I’ve mediated. Good luck to you,” Steve said as we walked to the elevator together.

The day I wrote and shared my first blog about being separated my voice quivered on the page. What if? What will happen when? Are you sure? They might think… My head was full and I re-read my post a hundred times to make sure it was love motivating me. When I was sure, I hit go. And in a millisecond the expression of my life in words, the voice I’d spent decades learning how to find and speak, she was alive and ready to share.

That was the healing. And everything was about to change again.

- Laura Probert

 

Essay #8: The Day I Heard Me by Noha Al-Kadhi

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I do not sleep at night for more reasons than one.

Some reasons are more prominent than others but they all share one common thread …I quiet them.

I quiet my thoughts and summon them to sleep all day, and I quiet them from coming to life at night.

I have finally come to peace with my sleepless nights and found comfort in discovering what my thoughts need to say as I have given them the permission to breathe.

My words were trying to birth their way into the world and they have found the freedom and their welcoming passage, and this is why;

As I lay on the polished hardwood yoga studio floor on top my perfectly folded blanket I ease my back into the bolster and crisscross my legs into a knot.

I am aware of the large glass windows that overlook the endless forest of trees that wrap around the tiny lake within the vast landscape of Montana which swaddle the grounds surrounding it to create a haven for migrating geese on a rainy October evening.

I stare at the ceiling covered in a soft floating pillow pinched into dimples gazing back at me like an airy cloud breaking into a grin.

With my arms spread wide open as though I am about to embrace a loved one, I slowly close my eyes and fall comfortably still into the soothing calm of what is pure silence.

And in that peaceful moment of stillness which could have been a second, an hour or even days, I found the words to the first chapter of my book.

The words found their way out of my congested head that October evening in the yoga studio because it was their safe haven.

I lay open and vulnerable, shed of all societal and cultural restraints, liberated from judgment and critique. I lay in a circle of love, engulfed within open and kind arms and compassionate hearts who have embraced me and given me safety to be.

My voice ascended from a deep silenced place of judgement, expectations, obligations, tradition, culture, and religion. It broke out of a dark space that held it in for too long, and it now basks in the sunlight of truth…My truth… my story… my journey.

Finding my voice is a liberation to generations of conditioning, and those who walked this path before me, and it is the emancipation for all who are destined follow.

My voice is a truth that has yet to be entirely heard and a freedom I have yet to fully experience.

From the Haven in Montana I have nothing but deep gratitude and indebtedness to ten beautiful souls I have had the privilege and honor to have met and known, shared and wept, grown and learned from. It is with this voice I thank you and acknowledge your kind hearts, beautiful minds, and unique voices that could hear mine way before I could.

- Noha Al-Kadhi

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Series Blog Series #3: Finding your Voice

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I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven Writing Retreats!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place? The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #5: The Voice Between the Words by Erika Putnam

Before my eyes opened this morning I felt a surge of panic. I reached under the pillow and snatched out my iPad. Did he respond to my message? I was having second thoughts about the email I sent last night. It was a sincere and unedited reply to his question, “How do you see yourself having the strength to make this change”? Without much thought, I pressed the send key. Then, I sat with remorse thinking, “oh no!” when he reads that he will think I’m crazy.

Our email exchanges began after a brief meeting. We discovered we were both writers and started sharing ideas about creative expression. His writing rhythm was immediately apparent. His morning emails are full of deep thoughts, descriptive experience and considerate questions. His evening communication is flirtatious and spunky. After hours he addresses me as “doll”, and his remarks have intended to provoke exploration or penetrate subject matter that requires visibility from another level. My morning writing pattern is inquisitive and introspective. By night my writing is random and disjointed. That explains the unpolished and over exposed email I sent the night before. Did I cross the line with my bold musings or create an opening for each of us and our respective lives?

There it is. I open the email and drink his words like morning coffee. He writes, “Did you really write this?” I smile. I hear his voice between the words. He continues on with an eloquent description of reasons to change and peppers it with personal insight and ends stating, “Many of us can imagine the perfect new way of being, but we lack the strength and fortitude to see it through”.

I begin to hear the voice in my mind that is formulating a response to what his writing has touched in me. I let our distance give me permission to be transparent. The voice that writes to him is different than the voice of my external life. I only hear this voice when I have my hands on the keyboard. It is similar, yet different than the voice that writes with purple pen in my journal and draws boxes around the good stuff and stars the margins. This voice is softer than the voice that writes medical narratives. It feels similar to the voice that makes wishes in birthday cards. The voice that wants to reach him has a distinct filter, several channels, and layers of content. It can more precisely describe a thought, image or feeling.

My response teases back, “Did you really write this”? Then, more words creep onto the page, cautious at first. I start with writing about having strength to change and allow myself to feel strong. The sentences begin to express a feeling tone. My inner voice feels stronger, louder, and the pace of my writing shifts. It takes the tempo of passion for a few sentences and then becomes slow and steady. Almost unconsciously, I write words that don’t feel like mine. It is, as if, the spirit of me has taken over. I resign the keys to the voice inside of me that allows connection between my heart and the subject on the page.

I re-read my letter and hear this familiar and separate voice. I see it has taken its seat again in my reply. I am compelled to toss it but instead, I see it through. It has proven to have the capacity to communicate things that don’t surface face to face. I consciously press SEND. He didn’t mention crazy.

- Erika Putnam

 

Essay #6: Denying and Declaring Voice by Brenda Wilkins

Renowned author William Kittredge invited me to review my assignment from his creative writing class at The University of Montana. I fought my father like hell to take this class. He sees no point and he pays my tuition. He wants me in economics and accounting.

‘This is not the short story I assigned, this is the beginning of a novel … a memoir, yes?’ Kittredge asks tapping my paper on his desk when I appear in his tsunami-paper-piled office. Books tip on shelves, and edges of anything, including the chair he clears for me to sit.

‘Yes,’ anticipating admonition.

‘It’s good. You have natural talent. I’d like to help you.’ He’s grizzly bear intimidating, but there is a warm glimmer in his eyes. I stare – in shock at the complement, the offer. This is the best day of my life.

‘I don’t offer that often.’ He says raising his bushy eyebrows under his bushy head of hair. Waiting for me to reply, to understand the extraordinary offer.

‘Thank you, thank you.’ I mumble breathless.  He nods with a slight grin handing me back my writing with ‘SEE ME’ scrawled across the top in red editor’s pencil. I am dizzy and out of body walking across the sunlit campus on this spring day in 1982. Tears well and spill in release. I walk directly to the registrar’s office and I withdraw from Kittredge’s class. I have not seen him since.

I still write.  Just like I have since I was nine and my mum gave me a pink journal with a sweet golden key, and since my mum insisted my father allow me to take Kittredge’s class. I have written through the trauma of my life with my mentally ill husband in thousands of journal pages, and into a memoir that sits complete on my computer.

In 2013 I sit in a therapist’s office in Arizona. I travelled here for intensive trauma therapy.  I am here because I am a warrior in need of a warrior therapist.  I grind through exhausting hours, weeks, months of therapy in the final – I hope – step to heal the PTSD I was diagnosed with shortly after my husband’s first psychiatric hospitalization. In therapy, I find a new freedom to honor all that I am. Including a writer.

I return to my memoir, realizing I must start over. While this memoir has been reviewed, and workshopped with other writers and well known authors I realize it is not my – capital M. Y. – voice. It is the powerful voice of ‘the story’, but it is not my story, my voice. My voice is the voice of a woman telling her own story, not her husband’s. My voice is the voice of woman who acknowledges her frailty and her fortitude. My voice owns her point of view. My voice is from one who knows she is a writer.

At Haven in Montana, I arrive committed to starting my memoir anew. Fellow writers affirm my voice -  not just my story. In the cocoon of beauty, love, guidance and inspiration that is Haven, my memoir unfolds fresh and new in my mind.  I recognize myself in my pages.In passing I share my Kittredge encounter with Laura. She looks as stunned in front of me, as I was in Kittredge’s office as a freshman co-ed. She encourages a promised ‘to do’ from me once I leave Haven.

‘Dear Mr. Kittredge,’ my promise begins. ‘Twenty five years ago you set me on a path to find my voice. It’s time I said thank you….’

- Brenda Wilkins

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with a waiting list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #2: Finding your Voice

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The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

Essay #3: VOICE LESSONS by Donna Naquin

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Go ahead. Say it! So I did. Somebody had to stand up to this terrorist. No one else seemed capable. Growing up, I lived with an unpredictable bear. Anytime the bear entered a room, I automatically assessed his “temperature.” On this particular spring day, he was hot. I felt my heart quake. At 6 feet tall, the bear, his angry eyes flaring, towered above the teenage me. Umpteen attacks prepared me for the onslaught to follow. Knowing that poking the bear would insight rage, something in me, an integral voice, encouraged me in this “Standing Rock” hour. Ferocious, frantic, and enraged, the bear scoured his cave for his missing piece/peace. Frustrated, he drew me into his eyeshot. Feeling the tension build, courage rose within me, an undeniable fearlessness. I spoke what needed to be said. The bear lunged with grisly force. Blackened eyes, bruised face, streaming tears, frightened and gutsy all at the same time…it was a David and Goliath moment. Windows opened, exposed to the world, I wondered if anyone heard me. I appreciated their frozen fears. They had mastered the art of sheltering in place: to remain out of sight and silent, to comply, to overlook the bear in the room. Speaking was a critical decision, a high-priced “gift” to myself that has served me for a lifetime.  In those marked moments barely uttering, I sang my strength, courage, and truth.

Now, hearing the voice whisper, shout and advise, I befriend it, creating a partnership. Nevertheless, sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t. Isn’t that the way with collaborations? I have become a miner, digging into internal claims and counterclaims. In the old days, miners took a bird with them into a mine… why is that? Is it because birds are sensitive to toxic substances and can signal a disaster? Prospecting has taken me to the top of “Pamper Poles” (one may need a diaper leaping from a 30 foot telephone pole to catch a trapeze… no net but tethered); to summiting a “Fourteener” in the Rockies; to sacred share circles in Bali; to incredible writing workshops in Colorado and Montana; to remarrying after 13 years of single hood post-divorce; and to intimate, authentic connections via pods of likeminded spirits. I carry that bird by my side. My growing edge is to honor and succumb to the whisper to write. Nailing my voice to paper stands my hair on edge and wrestles me to the mat. I get pinned by doubts, insecurities, and questions. With the same quaking heart and tenacity that allowed me to encounter the bear, I practice writing and I am able to confront the skeptic in me. Encouraged by a loving flock chirping, “You can tell a story,” I am inching out on that skinny branch. Creeping closer to the edge, I am confident I know how to fly.

-Donna Naquin

 

Essay #4: FINDING MY VOICE by Julie Steele

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The alarm sounded at 5:44 a.m. Some mornings it woke me, and on others I was waiting for it. I lifted myself from the daybed with Pottery Barn Kids sheets. I lit a candle, slipped the chunky oatmeal sweater over my shivering form. I sat down at the desk that had been my tenth birthday present in the office a few feet from the master bedroom—where I used to sleep. As my second-grader and soon-to-be-ex-husband slept soundly in their bedrooms, I plugged in the iPod and opened my laptop.

A friend had challenged me to write a page a day—an easy task to squeeze into a calendar already packed with full-time employment and motherhood.  I didn’t know I had anything worth reading until I began publishing essays on my blog. Friends read the posts, commented in the affirmative, and asked for more.

This scene repeated itself for months. In the glow of the laptop screen, I dared myself to try fiction. There, I met characters who had not existed before I created them. Each morning, I breathed deeply, and looked at my characters’ lives like a prism, wrote about them from every angle.  A story emerged.

I shared snippets of these scenes with trusted friends. “Is this any good? Could you care about these people? Could you imagine reading an entire book?” Their answers were fuel on those cold mornings. One friend commented, “I’m walking around with her in my head and she isn’t even my character!” Another said, “I’m worried about your character. I don’t like that those men came to her door.”

My beloved character, Astrid, was my muse. With her in my head and heart, I found my voice. She told me what she was going to do next, what she was going to need, and what was going to make her stumble. I was the dutiful scribe that put her actions and conversations on paper. And as I did it, it occurred to me that if Astrid could face the frightening unknown, so could I. That indeed, by WRITING Astrid into existence, I already was doing it.

Astrid went to Montana before I did—in a 30 page e-mail attachment to Laura Munson for her advance review before my attendance at the Haven retreat. Astrid was with me as Laura walked me through her edits and encouragement. Astrid’s story sat open on my lap as I wept on the daybed in a sunlit room at the Walking Light Ranch lodge. Laura affirmed I could do this. She echoed what I knew: I was already doing it. Laura’s pointers about structure and how to refine the writing guide me every day—almost two years after the retreat.

The tears helped me process my relief and joy. After so many years of thinking about writing and talking about writing, I was finally writing. A stronger, clearer version of myself had emerged. I knew I could never go back. Writing will forever be a part of my life and how I navigate the world.

- Julie Steele

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Finding Your Voice: The 2017 Haven Winter Blog Series

 

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  Were we told from a very young age that we should be seen but not heard, or that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, or act like a show off?  Or that we should only speak when we were spoken to?  When we expressed ourselves in a way that didn’t fit the mold, were we punished?  Were our mouths washed out with soap…maybe even just for saying the word “no?” or “why?” Maybe we endured verbal or physical abuse over our words from the very beginning and so we learned to keep them inside of us and maybe they have never felt safe in the world ever since.  Maybe we’ve learned how “to be a parrot just to cite a silly rule,” in the words of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Maybe our words were considered inconvenient for the people around us, or even dangerous, and they deemed us their enemy, making it their full focus to destroy our words and the integrity around them.  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Writing Retreat alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

p.s.  As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

Haven Writing Retreats 2017 Schedule

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreatgo to the Contact Us button here.

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Pilgrimage

Song of the Lark160018_4152498

In the season and spirit of pilgrims…let’s look at how change is essential, and perspective is everything.


When I was twenty, I had a summer internship at the Art Institute of Chicago in their Prints and Drawings department. In the afternoons, we’d assist visitors who wanted to view certain works of art in the by-appointment public gallery, and in the morning…we had the place all to ourselves. There were five of us, all wanna-be one day art historians, and about as many PhD curators who were happy to stop what they were doing and answer questions. So our days began in a vault full of stacks and stacks of boxes in alphabetical order. You name it—if there was a famous artist who put writing implement to paper, they very probably had a piece in this collection. Rembrandt. Rothko. Mary Cassatt. Matisse. Michelangelo. DaVinci. It was absolute manna, so typical of Chicago’s long line of artistic patronage. They had Cezanne’s sketchbook, for Lord’s sake. With his grocery list and his son’s drawings in the margins. I loved those mornings.

I’d spent the last school year in Florence, Italy after all, feasting on the Renaissance. I was in a place of artistic glut. Dizzied by an embarrassment of riches in the way of visual art and inspiration. So it was no small mistake that in that year, I decided to write a novel. Just as an experiment. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t consider myself a writer. I considered myself an artistic person who wasn’t good enough to be an actual artist, so I’d be a champion of artists. It seemed more practical. More the sort of thing my North Shore parents and friends could relate to an support. More the sort of thing I’d been raised for. Maybe I’d work at Sotheby’s. Maybe I’d own an art gallery. Maybe I’d go back to school and get my Phd and become a museum curator. The only thing was…none of those prospects really appealed to me. Not when I was sitting in that vault deciding between Mary Cassatt’s aquatints and Matisse’s Jazz book.

Sometimes, I’d bring my journal in there and just write, feeling the hearts and passion play of those artists throbbing in my body. I was writing more and more, all about this girl who was a painter, living on an island in Greece, who had fled her life of higher education and societal expectation. The first line of that first book was “Claire sat on her patio wondering what to paint.” I was sitting in that vault, twenty, wondering who I really wanted to be. Who I really was. I felt misunderstood.  I felt trapped by my future. I was angry. And scared. And lucky for me, I was restless.

Each day at lunch, I would shove down a sandwich and head up to the main galleries of the museum, and I would wander them, memorizing their placement so that my emotions would surge in anticipation around each corner. I knew those galleries. I loved those galleries. But there was one painting that took my breath away, quite literally, every time. The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton. 

The image is of a peasant girl, barefoot on a dirt road, holding a sickle in her hand, looking skyward as a bird flies by, the sun low in the sky. I was that girl. My true self was stuck in the wheel society had carved for me. Only mine was in no way the life of the peasant. Quite the opposite. Somehow though, I related with this girl. I was made of dreams that quite possibly would never come true too. And, like the girl, I was going to do something about it. There was no way that girl would be on that road in that peasant’s skirt and bare feet much longer, holding that sickle in that fist. She was going places. Probably that very night she was going to run away from home and hop on a horse going west. I’d follow her. What kind of lie was I telling myself? I wasn’t the person behind the art. I was the artist. I had things I wanted to put down on paper. Only they were words. So I spent that summer writing that novel in every free speck of time I had. And I haven’t stopped since.  I’m hoping to produce a novel that will find its readers in the next little while.  Hard at work and in love with it.  As it should be.

Whenever I return to Chicago, I make a point, like a pilgrimage, of going to the Art Institute and standing before The Song of the Lark. It still takes my breath away; it still gives me chills. But the way I have come to look at it surprises me. Now I see something different in the girl. She did not leave. She’s still there. Another day in the field. She is not free. But the bird…the bird is free. And she’s raising that sickle, not against her lot in life, but against that bird. Against that freedom she will not know. Her fingers are drawn up like a fighter in both hands. Her mouth is slack like she’s been sucker punched. She is bound by that painting to which Jules Breton committed her. Where she once was my heroine, she now smacks as a willful slave. I am sorry for her, and I am sort of ashamed of her. 

That’s what art does when it’s true. It’s alive in the heart. And we make it our own. At least I do, with this painting of this girl. I have needed to. I have needed to see that I have grown out of rebellion and into freedom. She is my reminder. The last time I went, in fact, I could barely look her in the eye, for all her victimhood. She couldn’t leave. You can always leave, I wanted to shout. No matter what your lot is in life. You can. And coming from privilege doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. So much to lose… But in the end, I learned that I am not bound by the painting that was painted for me. I am only bound by myself. I left that bondage, and I wrote and I am not that girl in the painting. I am, dare I say, the lark.

The beauty of it is that I’m sure there is a twenty year old girl somewhere, probably in Chicago, who comes to this painting and sees her fight and sees her flight and realizes it, in part, because of this girl’s raised fist and sickle. And maybe she will get on the horse and get out of town. Or maybe she will stay and paint her own painting of herself right where she lives, because that is possible too. That is perhaps more than I had the guts for.

And yes, maybe she will return one day, the fight out of her, and relate more to the bird in the sky. I hope that for her. I hope that we grow in the seasons of our life and that in the deliberate act of moving through them, we find ourselves with new pilgrimages to take and new ways to see. Now back to the novel…

Go on your own Pilgrimage to Montana…  Find your voice…set it free! 

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