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

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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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Come Together…Right Now.

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

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

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

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

Hope #1 (not in this order)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

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

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

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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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Throwback Tuesday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Retreats!

February 22-26
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,

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Dear Reader –

So you know when you want something very very badly?  And you wait and you wait and then finally…it’s a sunny day, and all the great ideas beckon you out into it saying, “You can do this thing, you can be this person you want to be, you can have the life you want…and P.S…it’s not that hard.  Come.”  And so you do.  And it’s with fear and trepidation. But you do it anyway and you feel good about it.  Really good.  And then something happens and you get stuck in an old way of thinking and the fear sets in and suddenly you find yourself on your ass.  In my case, it might have had something to do with a horse and his jig to my jag.  And the consequent fracture to a few key bones making it very hard to sneeze, cough, laugh, clear my throat, breathe.

Well, it gives you pause.  Time to think.  You know what I’m talking about.  That thing that you want so badly is actually something that really scares you and you wonder why you want it so badly– why you’ve set your life up to always be hard.  Like you’re constantly saying to yourself:  “You can take it.  You’re brave enough.  You’re a bad ass.  DO IT.”

Well that’s what I hear in my mind:  A lot.  Sometimes it serves me.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s helped me get through 25 years in Montana.  And it’s sort of getting me through these days laid up in bed, grateful for rolling over two inches, grateful for being able to reach a glass full of water.  It has me wondering about my relationship with personal power.  Maybe we don’t have to be so bad ass.  Maybe being able to get out of bed is a daily miracle.  Maybe this is a blessing, this time to pause.

And reflect on this woman I’ve been in these Montana years.

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In this period of near-motionlessness, I’m grateful for my laptop.  I’m not much in the mood for writing.  More for reflecting on my relationship with personal power and how I get in my own way– my jags to life’s jigs.  So, I’m looking through old blog posts about Montana in the last decade and trying to learn what it is to let yourself off the hook.  Thought I’d re-post a few of them here this week.  Makes sense, given my current state, to begin with one called “Break Me In, Montana.”  I hope you enjoy.

Here’s something that might help you in your own relationship with your personal power:
My affirmation when I went out on my first book tour was, “I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.”

yrs.

Laura

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Break Me In, Montana

May 11, 2009

I begged for this. This house. This land. This time. This husband and these children. I begged to know a place season for season. To use last summer’s spent perennials as winter mulch. To rake it off when the Lenten roses poke through. To know, finally, which one is the North Star, and use it to find my way home. I begged to feel my heart sink with the leaving V’s of geese. And become buoyant again with their return.

I did not know I was begging. All those years in cities. Chicago, New York, Boston, Florence, London, Seattle. I would catch myself in storefront windows and say yes, I am alive. I see myself here in the crowd. In that great outfit. Those fantastic shoes. And return to the apartment with the cockroaches and the blinking answering machine, ready to make my home in some glittering concert hall, some stark white art opening, some hushed mocha-toned new restaurant. I did not know I was begging for this when I dropped to my knees one night at the side of my bed like my grandmother used to, and said, please, please, bring me home.

Three weeks later my husband walked into our brand new Seattle house and said, “I just got a job in Montana. You would be able to write full time. We could have our kids there, and you wouldn’t have to work outside the home.”

So we left.

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  I watched the Cascades until they were little harmless divots in the horizon,    and I cried all through the dry of Eastern Washington and over the pass that  brought me, for the first time, to the Flathead Valley.
Over a hill, and there it was: Flathead Lake to the south, the ski mountain in  Whitefish to the North, the Jewel Basin in front of us drifting off into the Swan and the Mission ranges. The canyon leading to Glacier National Park off to the east. Twin bald eagles riding a thermal over us.
“It feels like a set up,” I said.

I could not receive this place at first. It felt like it had power over me like one of those guru types posing to know you better than you know yourself. More so, it felt like my enemy. The answer to a prayer I never meant to pray. Like it would break me in half if I slacked off for one second. Grizzly bears. Forest fires. Avalanches. Mountain lions. Angry loggers. Angry environmentalists. People dying for and from what I could only perceive as folly—kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, back country skiing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, ice climbing, river rafting…and on and on.

“Let go of the city,” the lovers of this country would say. “Stay. Sit a spell.” No, I secretly schemed. Letting go would mean a betrayal. Of that girl in the shop window.

Instead, I spent many years letting go of Montana. Taking hits off the city in drug-dose proportions. Looking down from my returning flight into our little valley, seeing the outline of the mountains, the five or six farm lights still on, landing, thinking I can do it this time. I can stay. Three months later, I would be up in the sky again, panting over the grid of lights below and the skyscrapers on the horizon beckoning me back.
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Until I had my first child. And the subway so suddenly went villain. The honking cars and heaving bus exhaust and hissing sewers…like land mines. I clung to my baby. I ended up in parks. Grant Park. The Presidio. The Boston Garden. Central Park. The Arboretum. Leaving the city windows to another girl’s self-fascination. Then I would hover over our little valley with the landing gear descending, see the half-dozen little lights below, the moonlit ranges, and begin to find thanks.

It occurred to me then, that letting go was not a leaving. But a climbing in. A yes. I proclaimed that yes. At first quietly. Ashamed. Then louder. Then so I didn’t know the difference between yes, and living.

Fifteen years. Dog sled racers, endurance riders, snowcat operators, medicine women, stunt pilots. Grizzly trackers, loggers, bowhunters. Helicopter nurses, heart surgeons, brewers and preschool teachers. Electric company cherry pickers, and Flathead cherry growers. Pizza parlor proprietors and organic farmers. Cowboys. Rodeo queens. Horse whisperers. Blacksmiths. Piano tuners. Cross dressers. Quilters. DJ’s, hot dog vendors, mule packers. Vietnam Vets. Ski bums. Fly-fishing guides, bartenders, computer programmers, train conductors. Double Phds that live in their car and grift at the pool hall for food money. Wives who live to hunt. Husbands who live to cook their wives’ kill.

I still have not been mauled by a grizzly bear. Still have not even seen a mountain lion. Have only come upon the aftermath of forest fire…and found a bounty of mushrooms there. Montana never broke me in– like a cowboy who thinks it needs to break the mare’s spirit to gain respect. I was never that mare. It was never that cowboy.

Instead, it was there all that time– in purple Alpine glow and sparkling wide rivers, in the sight of my child’s fingers on a trout belly, the safe back of an old horse lakeside in August, dipping its neck down and drinking slow sips of glacial run-off, in soft rains and misting meadows, anthills and golden Larch, in the little white farm lights and moonlit snowy peaks– it was there, all that long sweet time…welcoming me home.

 

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Haven Winter Blog Series #8:

bedroom_windowHelp send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

 

Post #1

I scan the gate area for the perfect spot.  My two year old is hiked up on my right hip. The carry on strap digs into my shoulder and my other two daughters are hanging on their dad, who is also loaded down with suitcases and bags. I point to a spot with a look.

We crowd in with our pile of bags beside a lone traveller, a woman writing in a notebook on her lap.  My husband takes the girls for snacks.  I love to watch people, and now’s my chance and sitting right here is a lady of great interest.

I try to act nonchalant as I peek at this writer.  She has her feet curled under her like a cat in front of the fireplace all cozy and safe.   She is intense and focused and I am fascinated. How does she do it amid the clamour of a busy airport? I fight the urge to lean over and tell her “I, too, am a writer!” and continue pretending to not watch her.

Is it true what I want to say to her?  Am I a writer or am I just pretending?  She doesn’t seem to have any distractions or excuses.  I have plenty of both.

My distractions return with pretzels, juice boxes and gummy bears.  I smile at my girls and steal glances at the writer. She flips to a clean sheet of white. Soon it is transformed into loops and lines of black ink.  I am in awe.  I envy her.  I envy her ability to block out all these interesting folks moving in and out of chairs with laptops, iPhones, Kindles, newspapers folded under arm and rolling tiny wheeled suitcases.

My daughters are at the windows pointing “Mommy, look at that plane!  Is ours going to be that big?!”  I smile and nod, remembering what we are here for.  My writing friend continues scrawling – her streaming ink flow doesn’t even flinch at my daughter’s squeals. I want to be this lady.  I want use spare moments to capture the spinning thoughts and stories inside me. I used to write on a daily basis, before I had a family, when I was twenty one, unjaded, eager to experience, tromping around the world with my backpack and my best friend, not to write the great novel, but simply because it was a part of who I am.  Writing is how I process the world.  It is my attempt to document the incredible moments in my life and my way of finding my true self and speaking to the truths deep in my soul.  I have been writing my stories since I learned how to use a pencil. That is, until I started all the grown up stuff of marriage, a mortgage and bringing a small tribe of girls into the world.  As the airport writer gathers up her things to leave, I make a silent vow: I promise to write.  Write in a journal.  Write that story burning inside that needs to get out. Write for me. I dig into the bottom of my travel purse and pull out a notebook and pen.

I keep a journal of our family adventures now.  I watch people and write scenes and characters inspired by strangers that I observe at the beach, in campgrounds, in airports, at gas stations.  These entries will help develop characters in the fictional story I am slowly writing.  I am a busy mom but I notice things; I find moments to write, waiting outside the dance studio for my daughters, when the little one is napping, or when the kids watch their favorite Disney movie for the millionth time, I sneak away to the kitchen table even if only for ten minutes.  I have learned to use the little bits of time because I don’t have chunks of time to give to myself at this point with a young, on the go family.  That doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself and my dreams.

The writer in the airport helped me realize that waiting until “someday” isn’t serving my creative dreams; it isn’t showing up for me. Not long after that trip I stumbled across an ad for Haven Writing Retreats in Montana with author, Laura Munson.  I knew this was the opportunity to show up for myself.   I attended Haven in September 2014, and it is the best I have given to my creative self.  It has been an enduring gift of connectivity with other Haven Alum, the writing souls who support and embrace each other’s talents and passions. My Haven experience continues to inspire my daily writing life.  Now that notebook at the bottom of my purse has creased pages with scribbled passages….just the way it ought to be.

- Michelle Irwin

Post #2

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heather 1

On Creativity

creativity

the precipice on which my life either unfurls into infinite possibility or coagulates into mediocre anonymity.

For much of my life, I held strong to the pervasive myth that people either are or are not creative, and as luck would have it, I just wasn’t creative. Bummer.

I took art classes every week in grade school. I played piano from 6 yrs. old through college. Put any piece of music or image in front of me, and I could play it or draw it. Ask me to sit down and improvise, and my heart constricted in my throat and I froze—“I can’t, I’m not creative.”

The weird thing is, my favorite part of art class growing up was abstract watercolor painting. I made stained glass and wrote poetry. I don’t remember a specific event or particularly embarrassing moment that shifted my relationship with creativity from pure joy to pure terror of being negatively judged. One minute I was carefree and imaginative; the next, paralyzed and guarded. I stopped painting. I stopped playing piano. I stopped writing. It was safer to be “not creative” than to be vulnerable.

I see this shift happening with my daughter, and it breaks my heart. She’s 9 years old. She’s supposed to be dreaming up fanciful adventures, not losing sleep over school projects because she’s scared her classmates are going to make fun of her. Because she believes she’s not creative.

After I misplaced half my life hiding in the shadows, I set out on a quest to resuscitate my long-defunct creativity. I signed up for Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection art journaling e-course. Just the idea of joining it made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t an artist or a journaler. I wasn’t creative.

Despite my inner critic, or perhaps in spite of, I took that first tentative step out of the shadows. One of the tools I learned was writing out actual, physical permission slips, giving myself permission to show up authentically in the world. To admit that I’m not perfect, and not let that stop me from doing things that bring me joy. To stop comparing my creativity to others. To make art if I want to, in any form, other people’s opinions be damned.

One day, I wrote out a “someday” bucket list: it included absurdly unrealistic things like “attend a Haven writing retreat” and “perform with Broad Comedy” and “give a TEDx talk”. When I wrote this list, I was terrified to be seen. I hadn’t written anything remotely akin to “creative writing” in over a decade. I couldn’t even read someone else’s poem at an open mic night, much less one of my own.

True to the Universe’s roguish sense of humor, it conspired to make all of these happen in epic ways. The girl who was petrified with stage fright found herself front and center acting, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar…I learned fast. I was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as the closing talk at TEDxBozeman. And I’m on my way to Haven II in January, working on two books.

I could have said no to what could easily have been a disastrous guitar-playing debacle. I could have made excuses about why I couldn’t afford Haven. Yet I couldn’t have. There was something gnawing at me, luring me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For me, it came down to giving myself permission to be vulnerable. That elusive, “I’ll feel better about myself if I write it down but I know these things are so totally unrealistic and out of reach” someday list literally changed my life.

Now that I know what it’s like to give myself permission to show up authentically, especially when it includes feeling vulnerable and taking risks, I can’t imagine going through life any other way.

Here’s the deal. If nothing changes, nothing changes. I can choose to believe the story I’m telling myself about not being creative. Or I can ignore my inner critic and practice owning my imperfection and be inspired by creativity.

Every day I get to choose how I want to show up, and whether creativity will play a part. Truthfully, some days it doesn’t. Most days, it’s non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza, and it takes many forms. It comes as poetry or handmade journals. Taking jazz (improv) piano lessons even though it scares the crap out of me. It can be as simple as writing a haiku for my daughter’s lunch.

What matters is that I remember that creativity is magic. Once we no longer see magic in the world, we lose the ability to fully experience life.

I am no longer willing to accept mediocre anonymity. I choose infinite possibility.

Heather Higinbotham

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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