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

wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone is building something.

Someone has plans that they haven’t abandoned.

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

Someone is creating something.

Someone believes in the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Zoom Meeting

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

Meeting ID: 983 992 436

Password: sonowwhat

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took a poll before I spoke at each event:

I asked:

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

Of course, everyone raised their hands.

Then I asked:

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

At least half the room raised their hands.

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I asked them to look around.

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

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

These were at the top of the list:

Career change/failure

Empty Nest

Divorce

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

Enter: shame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how:

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

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

Reading:

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

Listening:

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

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

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

The Women’s Eye

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

…And coming soon…

Learning: (and writing)

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

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

With love to you all,

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

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

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

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

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Spread Love (not viruses)

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

Willa's Grove

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Laura

Haven 2020 Schedule:

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

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

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Book Group Questions for “Willa’s Grove”

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

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

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

WORKSHOP: Writing and the Art of Living Mindfully 

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

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

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

Willa's Grove, Haven Writing Retreats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come see me on book tour!

Willa's Grove Book Tour

 

 Haven Writing Retreats

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

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

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

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Sacred Solitude: a holiday date with your vulnerability

munson174A1512_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So far these come to mind:

My Hot Flash made me do it!

The Nutcracker

Elf on the shelf

#naughty

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire

Jingle balls?

Ho ho no!

 

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

 

Willa's Grove

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

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

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

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Community or Netflix: (get off your couch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Willa's Grove

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

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

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

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Find Your Voice in Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

***OFFERING SPECIAL SEPTEMBER RATES***

(See below)

“I write in a solitude born out of community”

—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where nearly a thousand people have come in the last seven years to dig deeply into their creative self-expression on the page in intimate groups. That is my invitation to them.

This is my promise: We will dig deeply into what you have to say, and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community.

My call to action: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Writing Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These people were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction. This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later.

It happens every single time. I watch the transformation in each of these seekers as they gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life. Someone who walks the walk and truly wants to help. I want to show you how to ask for this help. Stay with me for a few more paragraphs. There is so much here for you. If you’re reading this…you know…it’s time to open to your endless and wild way with words.

I do this work because it is the most powerful way I can help answer the questions so many of us ask. Questions I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

But so many people out there think they have to be writers to come to Haven. It’s quite the opposite. All you have to be is a seeker. You can seek being a best-selling author. Or simply to express yourself and be seen and heard. Or anywhere in-between. Haven meets you where you need to be met.

Believe me…it took me a long time to trust sharing in a group. (More on that in a bit). For that reason, I designed the retreat that I would want to go on. So Haven offers Processed with VSCO with m5 presetexceptional craft instruction and well-supported workshopping opportunities, a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through your unique heart language. But it’s not just a five day retreat in Montana. After Haven, there is the entire Haven community, continuing mentorship, four additional programs available only to Haven alums, consultation, a private group forum, networking support, and so much more. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done. I’ve seen it change lives over and over again, and that’s why it’s ranked in the top writing retreats in the US. But there’s a lot more to the Haven story…

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life through the written word. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. Yet…I longed to be published one day. In fact, I was obsessed with the ill-conceived notion that I would only matter if I was a successful author. But deep inside of me, even more than that, I longed to have my voice be heard in a safe, small, group of people, and to bear witness to their unique voices too. I needed to find kindreds who understood this longing. So I joined a writing group which did regular retreats. That’s when everything changed.7E47D2C0-DD31-4CF1-84DC-5003DDC80D98

I got to experience the community of kindreds–people I would likely never have met in my regular life. Our little circle developed a haven from our lives where we could express ourselves safely and powerfully, and without the usual right/wrong, good/bad, grade-at-the-end, and the big one: Perfection. We could play. Like children. Even and especially in our darkest subjects. And soon, I learned to prize the process of writing in community, more than being published. Publishing would happen when it happened. I had work to do. I had to learn to truly love, and long for, my voice.

Years later, after sitting at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and finally knowing myself authentically as the woman I am and the writer I am…my dream came true. Suddenly I was a New York Times best-selling author.

1275_10151421704756266_1852761235_nSuddenly I was on major media, going to the book signings of my dreams from coast to coast and in-between, speaking in front of thousands of people at massive women’s conferences with headliners like Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. It was such an incredible honor to share my message with so many people, and it struck me how starved so many of us are for our voices and how to express them.

Over and over again I heard: I want to write. I want to find my voice.

Then the refusals would come.

But I don’t have anything important to say. Someone else has already expressed my message better than I ever could. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the talent. It’s self-indulgent at best.

And I realized that what people are missing is what I know so deeply to be true: The act of writing, whether or not anyone reads it, is where the power lies. It’s in the process. Being published and having accolades and readers and fan mail and all of that stuff is indeed fulfilling, but it’s nothing close to the way I feel when I’m in the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and the permission to say what we need to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! Each time I went out on the road for a speaking engagement or book signing, as much as I loved it…I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

I’ve got a book coming out in March 2020 and I’ll do it all over again. But this time I’ll know that I have a place for those people who long for their voices. It’s called Haven.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day (with some gentle nudging from writer friends) to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it. To show up for it and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this self-expression thing is all about: it’s in the ability to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it. AND…you don’t have to do it alone.

CC09F323-BFCE-4909-BA3C-8B09CA4EE66E
A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, and if you have a dream to write anything– a best-selling book, an essay, a journal entry, whatever…consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community at a Haven Writing Retreat. And then, become part of the whole Haven community.

NOW BOOKING:

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

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

Discounted from 7.19-8.1

Sept 18-22 (special rates)

Sept 25-29 (special rates)

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

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How to Find YOU in Empty Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info. (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 6

Haven Spring Blog Series

A note from Laura:

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

Yours,

Laura

Katherine Cox Stevenson - My Secret Writing Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

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

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

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

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 5

Haven Spring Blog Series

Colleen Brennan - December, Hill City, Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Lazorishak - Just Another Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

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

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

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

 

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