Tag Archives: community

A Tall Drink of Summer…

bench

Only a few spots left for my 2014 Haven Retreats in Montana…

September 10-14 (ALMOST FULL)
September 24-28 (ALMOST FULL)
October 8-12
October 22-26

When is the last time you sat on a bench in your home town?  It’s summertime here in Whitefish, Montana, so that means there are tourists enjoying the view from our town benches everywhere I look—taking a break from the overwhelm of our nearby Glacier National Park, our stunning lakes and rivers, and miles of pristine wilderness.  I’ve lived in Whitefish for twenty years and with our long, dark Montana winters, summer is my biggest bully, beckoning me to get on my horse, put on my hiking shoes, pack up the camping gear, grab the huckleberry bucket, paddleboard, canoe…and get after it, as we say around here.  And “it” is a high calling with vast reward.  I have been good at “it.”  Not this summer. 

This summer everyone in my family is running in a different direction.  Perhaps you can relate.  My daughter is leaving for her first year in college in a matter of weeks, baby-sitting 24/7 to help pay for her expenses (we should all be $baby-sitters$ these days!)  My high-school bound son has been up to his ears in baseball— his 13 year old All Star team not only winning State, but last weekend, Regionals!  (They went up against teams from all over the Pacific Northwest who had hundreds try out for those coveted spots.  They had twelve.  Small town miracles do happen!)  Personally, when I’m not watching baseball games or filling out college forms, I have been under a deadline for a novel I’ve spent the last few years writing.  (Deadline was yesterday.  Made it—phew!)   In other words, I haven’t stopped to enjoy summer.  Haven’t seen my horse.  Haven’t taken one hike.  Went out on Whitefish Lake once thanks to a friend with a boat who took “pity” on me when she saw my pasty skin.  Got some fresh huckleberries from a friend and her secret huckleberry patch, which I guiltily used in our pancakes the next morning.  It felt like cheating.  Most of all, I haven’t felt part of my community.  And I miss it.  I need to sit in it and just be.WF

So yesterday, when our town threw a parade for our Whitefish All Star champs, I got there early to make sure I captured it all on camera and cheered alongside the fire truck holding those glowing young men.  I was all ready to go, expecting the fire truck to round the bend at exactly 5:00 as scheduled in our town newspaper, but there was no parade to be seen.  I waited, checking my camera to make sure I had remembered the memory card and a charged battery—(I have an uncommon knack for forgetting both in the most photogenic moments), texting my son to find out what was going on.  Whitefish loves its parades.  I got a text back.  Schedule change.  Not til 6:00.  I had an hour.

Normally, I would think, “Ok— what can I check off my list?  What mail needs to be sent?  What errand can I run?  Do I have anything at the dry-cleaners?  But the stores were closed and my car was parked far away…and there was the nicest empty bench on the street corner in the shade.  And I thought—what the heck.  Why don’t you just sit down.  Take a load off.  People watch.  And BE.  See what other people see when they sit on our town benches.  The Burlington Northern railroad running through, the azure skies and popcorn clouds.  The emerald green ski runs on the forest green mountain.  The children skipping alongside their carefree vacation-minded parents.  The older people licking ice cream cones and gazing into shop windows I race past every day, really taking it all in– commenting on the western art.  “Oh, that’s lovely.”  And moving on, slowly, on the shady side of the street. 

Summer can be slow.  The “it” can be something quiet.  Meditative.  Simple, with no proof– not even a photograph.  I decided yesterday, sitting on that bench, that I’m going to become a bench dweller.  I’m going to make a practice of sitting on benches, especially in my home town.  I want to see the wonder of what Whitefish looks like to people who are seeing it for the first time.  I want to say, “Hello” to strangers, and locals too, and give benign smiles that have nothing to do with team sports or college entrance or work or who are the best teachers, or who are you going to vote for, or even what’s in the local paper.  I just want to Be in my town.  Take a load off.  Sit a spell. 

When those fire trucks came around the bend, I grabbed my camera, ready to shoot in rapid fire, to share on Facebook and with the paper and everybody else for that matter.  But instead, I stood up, and waved, smiling to my son and his team, took one picture, jogging alongside them for a few steps to show my support.  But then I stopped and watched, smiling and proud, as the truck made its way down Central Ave.  And I sat back down on the bench.  Being a parade chaser is too exhausting.  Sometimes it’s better to let the parade pass by.  There will be more parades.  Most of life is about all the stuff that lives between our heightened moments.  That’s the “it” I’m going to start getting after.  On little benches everywhere.  I invite you to do the same in our last weeks of summer.

champs

We reached our goal and our baseball family is leaving for the Babe Ruth U-13 World Series in Virginia today!  Thanks to all of you who helped make it possible!

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Blog Hop– Writers Writing

Over and over, I say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life. I’ve always written. For the most part it’s because it helps me to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I also write for a lot less elegant of a reason: I’m obsessed. I can’t not do it. I like to play around with words and push them to their limit of meaning, mix them up with words they don’t “go” with and feel their energy and flicker. I like to step directly into uncomfortable places on the page and make stuff up, climb into shoes I couldn’t in my “real life” and experience the empathic journey through an old woman with dementia, or a homeless teenager, or a man who lives in a small village in Africa. So in short, I’m an obsessed empathy junkie, with an addiction to words.

It’s always been this way. I’ve written all my life, and in my adult life I’ve completed fourteen novels—not all good, but a few of them publishable. I wrote when I had three jobs, when I had small children, when I finally had a book published and was in the thick of promotion, reeling with sudden fantasy accolades like the New York Times best-seller list and long-dreamed experiences like going on Good Morning America, NPR, and much much more. (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is– Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) But what I’ve learned in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” is that what really matters is doing the work. The writing. Writing is just what I do—it’s how I’m wired. I’m no good at getting to the gym or balancing my checkbook, but I know what it is to sit at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and I’ve done it with all my might for a long time.

Turns out…this is an uncommon way to live. Not a lot of people know how to climb into that uncomfortable but enchanted playground and play, skin their knee, fall off the merry-go-round, pump so hard on the swing they swear their sneakers touch the sky. That’s why I started my Haven Writing Retreats a few years ago. I want to help people play the way I know how to play, for their own creative process, but also to help them process life. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, mostly in Montana where I live, but also across the US, and abroad. It is such an honor to help facilitate creative self-expression and to help people develop their unique writing voice, whether or not my attendees are “writers.” Everyone who comes to Haven shares one thing in common: they are seekers. I love being in the midst of ten minds and seeing where they go. It’s the best wine I have ever tasted. (And it’s absolutely ruined my ability to make small-talk in the grocery store, so if you see me in the green grocer section, I apologize in advance!)

I’m telling you all this because in the crazy world of curiosity and sharing that hatched and feeds the internet, there is something called a Blog Hop. It is a wonderful way for writers to support one another, share their own musings on writing, and shine a light on other writers. I have found writers to be incredibly generous and that’s a good thing, because the writing life can feel very very lonely.  To that end, one of my very first Haven attendees, Mary Novaria, asked me to participate, and I was thrilled to come along for the ride, as well as pass the torch to other Haven alums. (I’m fiercely devoted to anyone who comes to Haven to take a powerful stand for their creative self-expression and very honored that the Haven Retreat was just named (on April 22nd, only two years since its inception) one of the top five retreats in the US by Open Road Media!) These Haven writers are listed below, along with their photos, bios, and links and you can look forward to their answers to the following questions next Monday on their blogs. Please tune in and enjoy!

With my trusty pen!

With my trusty pen!

pens

Blog Hop Questions:
1) What am I working on/writing?
I am writing three books: a novel, of which I have a very solid first draft. A memoir about the mythic trenches of “failure” and the mythic altitude of “success.” Or, in plainer terms, about the oddities and hopeful grace found in kissing youth good-bye and (for the most part) embracing the new chapters of middle-age. And a book about the writing life which is full of stories of my personal journey, and practical information that I have gleaned from both living it, and teaching it at Haven Retreats.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
People tell me all the time that they don’t have a unique writing Voice. That they’re searching for it. But what I get to see at Haven, is that we already have our “voice.” It’s about tuning in to where it flows most naturally, rather than grabbing it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. It’s about getting in touch with your inner critic and telling her/him that it’s just a scared child and it’s time to go back to sleep. Mama’s in charge. It’s about trusting that it is actually impossible to experience a single moment with a group of people and all write about it the same way. Even if we tried. So the answer to this question is that no two writing “voices” are the same. It’s impossible. My voice is my voice. Yours is yours. And that is a beautiful thing.  I write novels, memoir, personal essay, short stories, sometimes a rare poem, articles, screenplay…so I’m not in one particular genre. (Think Sybil.)  But you can bet that every single thing I write comes from two things:  years and years of hard work and this central author’s statement of mine:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.  I’m not sure if that shows up in my work and thereby makes it “different” than other work in my genres, but I would like to think so.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I think I covered that in my intro. My Author’s Statement nails it.  When I’m wondering why I spend so much time doing this crazy, financially unreliable, socially embarrassing, and sometimes gut-wrenching thing called writing, dealing with so much rejection and an industry in transition…I refer to my Author’s Statement, and it helps set me back on course.  I wrote it one day when I felt pure despair.  Taped it to my computer.  And refer to it every day while I’m sitting here navel-gazing.

4) How does my writing process work?
First of all, I don’t believe in writer’s block. As a parent, it has been a core value to raise flexible people. I would say the same for the writer I’ve “raised” in myself. I do not need a certain kind of environment, device, screen, paper, pen (although I do covet the navy blue Pentel uniball, and everyone on my retreats gets one for free!  Bonus prize!!!).  I can write wherever, whenever. Hemingway said he couldn’t write in the cabin of an airplane. I do a lot of writing when I’m on airplanes and most of it is in my journal and reads like this: “Please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash” so if my journals are ever published posthumously, everybody will think I am a total nut case, but writers are used to that public opinion of them, or should be if they’re not already. Because no one asked us to do this work. It’s considered masturbatory at best, and narcissistic drivel at the least, and for the most part, your family and friends are embarrassed that you do it in the first place, especially if you write a memoir. You do it for yourself, and maybe you do it for other people. And you get rejected. A lot. Mostly, you get rejected. So you better know WHY you are doing it. At Haven, we write an Author’s Statement which we share the last night. It’s a one liner about why we write, that I encourage people to bring home and put someplace very safe for them—their nightstand, their kitchen sink, their computer (if it is in fact safe and not a fire-breathing dragon). In other words, the writing life ain’t for sissies, so you better be able to open that vein and bleed no matter where you are. Everyone’s different. I usually write daily in the mid-morning to early afternoon and for a large part of the weekend. I average about five double-spaced pages a day.  (I’m not a word count person– I go by pages.)  On a really great day when I’m really cranking, I can get around eight double-spaced pages but that’s a lot.  I once wrote twenty-four double-spaced pages in one day and that was just way too many pages to be any good.  Always Times New Roman. 12 pt. Regular margins. Some of it’s compost. Some of it: keepers.

MEET NEXT WEEKS’ HAVEN BLOG HOPPERS:

Sukey Forbes: 1395938_10152011952349540_130556359_n
At the age of 12 a family friend gave me a black leather-bound artists sketchbook to use as a journal that I have to this day. It was the first of many that I have kept and in those books I explored the world of emotion and the landscape of my world through writing. Although inefficient in this day and age, there is a palpable connection for me between the formation of words with my own pen on the page and the ability to access the full spectrum of emotion. The pen and paper remain my best tool. When I need clarity I have found time and again that the best way for me to understand is to write.
My way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of life has always been through writing.

In July my memoir of loss, “The Angel in My Pocket” will be released by Viking. It is a story of grief and resilience woven through a backdrop of 
family history. I have chosen to let the light back into life and learn from all that is placed in my path. My blogs for sukeyforbes.com and Huffington Post are filled with more than a dash of gallows humor in addition to reflections on grief and observation about life after loss.

I have found that on the blank page, with pen in hand, I can rage and rail, write circles around myself and yet one thing has always been true for me: If I keep writing, eventually the truth of the matter for me will emerge. The surprise I received through writing has been peace. With each small gain of insight and release of sorrow it travelled back up my pen, spiraled around my fingers, hands and arms and settled deep into my core.  I hope some of my writing resonates with you.

Lauren Lizardo: lauren
Lauren Lizardo doles out real talk about money + technology + heart + everything-in-between. She loves the practicalities as they relate to executing a dream. She’s also on a mission to divert the world’s obsession with efficiency and productivity to – in her opinion – sweeter, heart-centered things like simplicity and balance. A few years ago, she abandoned a promising career as something fancy and corporate to start her own consulting practice. She hasn’t looked back. She is especially grateful to say she is inspired by and in awe of all her clients. A lovely byproduct of her transition was the renewed excitement for and space to write and to create.

As such, Lauren recently attended Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana. (Read her recent blog post about that awesome retreat here.) While there, new perspective and creativity were unleashed for not only her own writing practice but her other endeavors as well. She is now experimenting with new dimensions of her work and taking bigger risks. In short, she is becoming very good friends with her fear. Her story is unfolding over at laurenlizardo.com where she wrote a powerful piece about Haven.

Kim Jorgensen Gane:KimPortraitCrop8 (2)

Kim Jorgensen Gane is an author and award-winning essayist. She works as a freelance writer in communications and media near Michigan’s sunset coast where she lives with her husband, youngest son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim’s website is GANEPossible.com, where she covers a variety of topics including parenting, infertility, wellness, empowerment, politics, and anything else that interests her. She is a Northwest Indiana cast member of Listen to Your Mother 2014. Her projects include an essay in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, and she is co-editor with Dana Talusani (fellow cast-member in LTYM Boulder, CO) for the #JudyBlumeProject, which is currently seeking submissions. By 2015 she expects to have a publisher and to release her memoir, My Grandfather’s Table, for her 50th birthday. Her novel in progress is, Bluebirds. Her first GANE Possible Publication will be released late spring of 2014. It is, Beating the Statistics: A Mother’s Quest to Heal Infertility and Halt AutismShe wrote a lovely piece about Haven here.

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Heart Language

heart_houseHappy Valentines Day to you all from the heart of my home to yours.

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No Black Friday

Give yourself or someone you love a Haven Retreat for the holidays!  My next one is Feb. 25th-March 1st and it’s filling fast.  Click here for the other 2015 dates and more info!

l Iike to re-visit this post every year on this day:


I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with a central square flanked by shoulder-to-shoulder shops in brick and tudor. A fountain on one end, a Parthenon shaped department store on the other, a park with grass and benches and a flagpole in-between. My goldfish met its maker in that fountain because I thought it a better life than the one he’d been living in a small bowl on my windowsill. I met my best friend at that fountain every day before school and ate donuts from the local bakery sitting on the side of it. I had a kiss or two in the dark at that fountain. I climbed that flagpole on a dare. I believed in the spirit of Christmas standing in that park, looking into the illumination of the crèche each December. We called it Uptown and it was an iconic yet controlled kingdom to us, the Downtown of Chicago being so vast and distant. My house was close to Uptown, and after school every day, I walked my dog around its streets, memorizing every alleyway, every store window, smiling at the familiar faces of the shopkeepers who knew my family, our names, our stories.

In those days, many families had charge accounts at the stores. So sometimes, I’d get permission to go on little shopping sprees, charging stickers and pens at the stationary store, ribbons at the dimestore, Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers at the drugstore, an album at the record store, a bike bell at the sports store, seeds at the hardware store for my vegetable garden. We had nicknames for these stores like old friends. They were our meeting places. Our stomping ground. Our stage. When my father died, the local grocery store gave us a cart full of groceries for free once they heard the news. These shops were the bones of our goings on as a community. Not because they represented greed or even commerce to us. They were the places where our mothers ran into each other and gossiped and wondered and pontificated. They were the places where we flirted with boys, dreamed up birthday parties, found the right words for a grieving aunt, played truth or dare over an ice cream sundae. A lot of these shops are gone now. Now the shoe store is a Williams Sonoma. The corner store is a Talbots. The hardware store is a True Value but it’s at least still there, even with a Home Depot lurking in the not-so-distance. I’m proud of the way my hometown values its local shops and supports them, even with so much bright-light-big-city so close.

Now I live in another small town, this one rural and full of economic hardship. I watch as the shop owners struggle to make ends meet and keep their doors open. I know most of them the way I knew my hometown shop owners. I watched as they took their vision and made it a reality. I see their pride because in our small mountain community, these shops hold deep importance. There is no option of city. People drive a long way to stock up on feed for their animals, paint for their barns, winter socks for their kids. Not long ago I was proud to say we didn’t have a Gap in the state of Montana. Or a Target, a Best Buy, a Home Depot, a Lowe’s, a Costco. That’s changed now. It’s here. Consumption Junction we call it. And it’s killing our local small businesses.

I see the store owners’ worry. All their money wrapped up in keeping their store running even if it’s barely paying the bills. I picture Central Ave. being one day like a ghost town of the old West, tumbleweed and all, the bars surviving because people will always drink away their woe. The churches surviving because people will always need to pray in public, knowing they’re not alone. But then I also picture a time when the box store will die. Our greed for unnecessary plastic items will fade if not devour us. We’ll stop filling up our shopping carts until they are brimming over when all we came for was…well, winter socks. And maybe things will return to the old ways. And people will live off the land. And buy only what they need and only when they can afford it. And barter for what they can’t afford. I picture a time when a person with sheep has profound power, shearing them and spinning their fleeces, and a person who knows how to work a forge is the reason why transportation is possible, horses needing shoes and meaning business—not just decoration or a vehicle of recreation. And the Farmer’s Market will be more than a sunny place to listen to a singer/songwriter and buy a hula hoop along with your Swiss chard.

There is a road called Farm-to-Market here in Montana where I live. It’s a pretty Sunday drive. When I take that road, I think about how it once was a bloodline for this community. Blood sport. Many broken hearts along its fences. Countless dashed dreams and false hopes. The kind of road where you sort out what you’re going to say to your wife when you come back with a full cart, someone else’s tomato crop being what it was. It’s not that I defy modern technology or progress or the possibilities of button pushing. It’s that I don’t trust us to know what to do with what we’ve created. I trust humility more than greed. And as much as I love that I get welcomed into Walmart and love that I can get winter socks for my kids and Swiss chard both and still get back in time to pick them up from school, as much as I know that those are local people working those jobs, in honesty and humility with dreams of their own, sorting out their own stories to tell their spouses…I want us to stop.

I want us to go to the local hardware store and eat a bag of popcorn while we discuss paint color and drill bits and talk weather while we do it. And what about that school bond and what about that new city councilman? I want us to drop our spare change into the Mason jar to help with the Nelson girl who has Leukemia. I want us to go slowly again. I want us to wonder about each other. I want us to ask, “How’s business?” and hear that it picked up this October, which is usually a slow time—better than last year. To nod and smile at that good news and feel like we’re going to be okay. We won’t lose our hats along with our dreams.

This holiday season, I want us to stop. Not take our turkey hangovers to the early morning, standing at a Target ready to run in like monkeys on a zoo break. I want us to continue the gratitude of the day before. I want us to sleep in and maybe take a walk into town later to see what the local shops have for sale. I want us to have those conversations. I want us to go Uptown instead of Downtown and especially I want us to steer clear of Consumption Junction. Even if it costs a bit more. Even if it is a little less shiny. Even if it means we buy less, or go to three stores to find that one thing our kid asked for. I want us to stroll down Central Avenue. And say hi to each other. I want us to be thankful for our town squares and our backyard businesses and see ourselves in the reflection of their holiday windows.

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Haven August 2013

portrait

2014 (Now Booking!)

February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

When this Haven group left, there were tears, new friendships; there was transformation, fierce self-expression, and most of all community.  We need community, especially in our creative pursuits.  I want you to look at these pictures.  I want you to imagine giving yourself your dreams, despite what your inner critic says, or your friends and family for that matter.  Take a stand for what you believe in.  What you want.  What you want to create!  And if that sparks a desire to come to Haven…DO IT FOR YOURSELF!  In the minute of the spark…is the flame.  Come burn.  yrs. Laura

Here’s what a few of my last retreaters wrote about their Haven experience.

Click here  and here and here.

Yes

It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

(with thanks to Lorrie…and all the  Haven brave and beautiful souls.  Thank you for your enormous YES!)  This is for you.

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Maybe I Understand Grace Now

Haven Retreat in Montana:

August 7th-11th (now booking)

September 4th-8th (now booking)

September 18th-22nd (full with a wait list)

 swirl

Well, another Haven retreat has passed and I am in that zone again. It’s somewhere between having watched a miracle and wanting more. It’s the place where lofty words like grace and awe and wonder and purity come from. We played. We became more aware of our best selves. And maybe our worst selves. We honored and supported each other. We broke through. We belly-laughed. We are home now. Me included.
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Back to bills and emails and kids not really caring that we just found transformation because they need new shoes, and bosses who are kinda like: yeah…great. Did you join a cult or something? You have a look in your eye that I’m not exactly sure will go over well at our next annual meeting. Whatever.

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After breakfast on the last day, we say goodbye to people that just four days ago were total strangers, and Them, and Better than, or Afraid of, or Worse than…and are now family. It happens every time. We become community. We have been through something together and we are better for it. Maybe healed. Definitely inspired. Braver for sure.

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And after everybody leaves, I lie on my stomach on the dock and swirl my finger in the water, sending out ripples for each person, naming them, one by one, sending them off to their lives from the ranch in Montana to wherever they will land. Watching as the ripples go out and out until they become lake and settle into the world of nature, purpose, intention, mindfulness, reverberation of heart language.

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This time, I told the group that I would be doing this ritual on their behalf. And I got a note the last morning from one of the retreaters. She said, “Read this before you go to the dock.” And I did. They all went off and I heaved a deep breath, fighting tears, feeling joy…and read her note. It thanked me and Haven and Montana and the ranch and the group. And it gave me this challenge: when I swirled out my God-speed, I was to feel it coming back to me. I wondered if I would be able to do that. I readied myself, and I went to the dock. Lay on my stomach. Put my finger in. Swirled and sent for each of these dear, brave, creative sisters.
dock

And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, on an otherwise still day, a breeze came through, across the lake. And just as the first ripple touched the other side of the lake, launching…the ripples came back to me. Until they squalled over and disappeared. And a loon flew over. And I felt perhaps one of the most complete acts of love I’ve known. Thank you to you all. I love you.

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Five Nice Things

author_photo_final 002

It’s 3:00 in the morning and for some reason I can’t sleep.  That never happens to me.  There is so much going on in my mind that I just have to write it out and then hopefully get back to bed.  My dear friend Jennifer Schelter said something to me yesterday that has my mind spinning.  She said, “Why do people resist joy?”  She’s the founder of Mindful Strategies for Living and a fabulous yoga instructor and life coach.  In her daily work she sees people striving for happiness, but stuck.  “Everybody takes everything so seriously.  What’s wrong with sitting down and eating a big piece of chocolate cake?” she said.  “Where’s the joy?”

It’s a good question.  So I took her question on a field trip as I went through my day.  At a baseball game, in the local café, at the ranch where I hold my writing retreats, at the grocery store, out for dinner…I listened to people with this central question in mind:  where is the joy?  Specifically I listened to the answer to the question:  “how are you?”  I didn’t hear, “Great!”  I heard, “Oh, hanging in there.”  “Okay.”  I even heard, “Still alive.”  A few times I heard groans, and once I heard no reply at all.  I’ve decided the question “How are you” has been infected.  And it’s messing with our joy.

I have a foreign exchange student here from Sweden this year, and the first week, as she was processing our cultural ticks, she asked me, in all honesty, “Laura, in this country, when you get asked How are you are you supposed to answer?  Because it doesn’t really feel like people are asking a question.  They say  it like a statement.”

And I thought about it and started paying attention.  She was dead on.  Almost half the time, people ask “How are you” as a greeting, not as a real question.  It made me self-conscious, because I usually answer truthfully and at length.  Which probably makes me a pain in the rear end in the grocery check-out line.  Oh well.  All the world’s a stage, right?   But how am I contributing to this “resistance to joy” that my life coach friend talked about yesterday by swirling around in the longer version of, “still alive?” by giving examples of what’s hard in my life– rather than what’s wonderful in my life?  Our answers to “how are you” help influence the general pulse of the human heart and our society at large.  I want to start saying, “Great” even on a crappy day.  Because there is something great about even a crappy day and why not think about that!  It just plain feels better.  I want to feel better.  I need to remind myself to see what’s “great” in my life and spread that around town.  (And sure– at length because that’s the way I fly.  Sorry, grocery line.)  It’s almost a social responsibility, really.  Community service.  Spreading the joy.

Here’s another question we get asked in passing that has turned into a joy suck:  “What do you do?” which we usually translate into “what do you do for work” and answer accordingly.  “I’m a writer.”  Or “I’m a stay at home mom.”  Or “I’m in the technology field.”  We take the verb to do and assign it the meaning of job occupation.  Which is our societal currency.  We’re used to filling in that slot like robots.  Sometimes it hatches a conversation.  But often, it doesn’t.  We hear crickets.  Or get a glazed-over nod.  And we walk away feeling pinned like a bug in a science project. I met somebody recently who calls herself a loveologist.  I think the next time somebody asks me what I do…I might just reply with that and see what happens.

I’ve never been a fan of that question, probably because for a long time, the answer to it was:  “a writer” and for a long time I didn’t get paid for being a writer, so as far as society went…I wasn’t really “allowed” to call myself a writer.  I was supposed to answer what I did to make money.  And so the answer was anything from “a nanny,” to “a barista,” to “a bartender,” to “a flower delivery girl.”  (I ALWAYS said “writer” anyway, by the way, for those writers out there!  You must!)  So I changed the question. I ask people a different question, upon meeting them.  I ask, “What do you like to do?”  Every time their eyes brighten up and they tell me their joy.  Sometimes, yes, it has to do with their occupation.  But usually it doesn’t, which is a sad statement about our society in its own right.  Around here, in Montana, the answer is often, “ski,” or “ride horses,” or “hike in the mountains.”  Try it sometime.  It’s much more fun than “what do you do?”  I want to see the light in people and I know it’s in there.  Don’t you?

I want to see the joy.  And I want to find mine, even in the most mundane moments.  I know it’s in the way I think.  And if the last hour lying in bed, thought after thought whipping through my mind, weed-whacking my joy into shredded bits of tax, and bills, and teens, and mortgage, and career compost all over the otherwise lovely prospect of my sweet dreams…I simply know there is another way.  So I stopped my thoughts.  I actually sat up in bed and said, “stop.”  And then I gave myself a challenge:  think of five things you like about yourself.  It was hard.  It spun another half an hour or so of self-flagellation.  Because every time I thought of something, I weed-whacked it.  “You’re a good mother” quickly turned to “I haven’t taken my daughter to visit enough colleges yet and she’s going to be a senior this fall” and “you didn’t read enough with your son when he was little and now he watches too much TV.”  Ugh.  Five things you like about yourself, Laura.  Finally, I got three and called it good.  Three positive, thoughts about myself to stabilize and soak in, without whacking them.  And interestingly, in order to do it, I had to think of myself from the perspective of the little girl I once was.  She told me:  You’re a good cook.  You’re funny.  You eat chocolate cake without apology. 

We have to re-train ourselves back to that child in us who joyfully woke up to the possibility of the day.  Who loved herself.  Whose goal was to play.  And be joyful in it.  When you wake up tomorrow and see this blog post, take a moment and try it.  Think of five things you like about yourself.  Or maybe three.  But please…at least one.  And hold it close all day, saying it over and over to yourself.  And when you’re in that grocery line, and someone asks you, “How are you,” think about that thing…and say, “I’m great.”  Because you are.

I’m going back to bed now for what I hope will be sweet dreams.

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Welcome Spring!

 

 

 

 

2013 Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (full– wait list)
August 7th-11th (now booking)
September 4th-8th (now booking)
September 18th-22nd (now booking)

Thank you for my winter haven respite, wherein I gave over These Here Hills to you, worked on a book, and watched from afar while you created community in your blog entries and beautifully rich interactions.  It was a joy to think that community can happen whether or not face to face.  It can be word to word.  Congratulations to Darla Bruno for winning the contest!  She is the recipient of a scholarship to my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!  I will be back now at These Here Hills and look forward to sharing with you here.

Some people object to social media.  They say it is not a real community.  Well I just recently did an hour live chat with Book Trib and I loved every minute of it.  I might be a talking head on an awkward laptop camera, and I might be alone in my office answering questions typed in from participants, but in this format…there is still community.  Something happens when we make ourselves available to question and answer whether in person or not.  Thank you Book Trib, and to those who participated!  For those of you who didn’t catch it, here you go.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #28

These trees keep watch like three ancestors, believing that I can write this book, even when I wonder...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I love how we can touch who we are in the faces and hearts of our forebears.  Please enjoy this lovely piece from Michelle Roberts. 

yrs. Laura

Freckle-faced Filipino, by Michelle Roberts

“Ah que linda!”, Mara squealed as she stepped through the front door putting her warm, plump hands on my freckled cheeks.

My mother told me it meant “oh, how pretty” but it didn’t help me get over my pale skin and strawberry blond hair. Strawberry blond because kids teased little girls with red hair and my mother specifically said mine was the most beautiful shade of strawberry blonde. “Women would kill to have your hair color but you just can’t get it in a bottle”, was her way of comforting me.

I was born in 1970 at Cape Canaveral Hospital smack in the middle of the sunshine state. Even though I grew up in Florida I never once managed to get a tan. A day at the beach meant I’d burn, sunscreen or not. By afternoon I was red as a lobster, peeling a few days later and then white again with nothing to show for it but a few extra freckles.

My grandfather was from the Philippines with dark hair and olive skin. Even though he was in his late seventies when we moved in after my parents divorced, he always had lovely Latin ladies visiting him. I envied their dark complexion and thick black hair. Mara was a regular and brought him food, shared stories and rolled her R’s even when laughing. His was the first stable, calm home I could remember and I relished the routine of dinner served every day at exactly 5:30pm. He wasn’t exactly affectionate but a man who tended to his plants every morning before most people got out of bed had a kind heart whether or not he’d admit it. The neighborhood kids were scared of him because he yelled from his front porch when they took a short cut through his flower beds. My mother used to say that he’d mellowed with age. None of my friends would believe it.

It must have been difficult to have three young children move in after retiring but we always felt welcome. My problem was that I never really felt like I fit in. The adults often spoke Spanish to keep their conversations from little ears. Especially my mother and her twin sister who talked so fast Spanish lessons probably wouldn’t have helped. I loved to hear the story about how she learned to speak the language out of necessity as a little girl. When my grandfather married his second wife from Cuba my mother made so many trips to the corner store to buy a sack of sugar? No. Flour? No. She was tired of the store owner shrugging his shoulders and finally taught herself how to decipher her new step-mother’s pantomime.

My grandfather immigrated from the Philippines in 1925 through the port of Seattle and worked for a year in Detroit while living with his uncle, the first of the Owano clan to make the trip across the ocean. He later moved to Chicago where he studied to become a doctor and met my grandmother at a party. A tall, gorgeous blonde with men buzzing all around her, she didn’t notice the handsome man of modest height who kept refilling her glass and fetching her food. She gave her number to another man and my grandfather memorized it. When I asked him what he thought when he met her he admitted, “My children would be tall.” He never became a doctor but they raised five children on his salary as a porter on the Pullman trains.

So it was my grandmother’s height and fair skin and her mother’s strawberry blond hair that I inherited so many years later. The Filipino relatives that visited over the years found humor in meeting their first freckle-faced Filipino. I grew up hearing tales of the huge parties the Owanos threw for family visiting from the United States.

“You’d be treated like royalty the moment you stepped off the plane,” my mother used to tell me. “They’d roast whole pigs and serve eight course meals in your honor especially since you are so fair skinned. The women in the Philippines shield themselves from the sun so their skin doesn’t get too tan.”

Years later when I moved to Washington, DC, after college my grandfather was the first to warn me about the murder capital of the country. He jotted down the address of a cousin who lived in Maryland and I dutifully wrote it in my address book. I wasn’t the shy girl that lived with him as a child but I knew I’d never pick up the phone to call on a relative I’d never met. My college roommate and I were sharing an apartment with another friend in Virginia and moving to a new city without jobs or even prospects. He had every right to worry.

But somehow we managed. I worked a couple of jobs through temp agencies until I was hired by a downtown trade association. The first thing I did when I got medical coverage was flip through the providers list to find a dentist. I made an appointment for the following week with an office that listed Filipino under “languages spoken”. I was hoping she was the hygienist and a mention of my grandfather might spare me the usual lecture about never flossing.

When I went to my new patient appointment I asked them who in the office was from the Philippines. They told me one of the hygienists was working toward her certification and should be there when I returned for my cleaning.

The day of my cleaning I recognized her accent right away. There’s something about the way Filipino’s pronounce their n’s and g’s that reminds me of the smell of my grandfather’s adobo and hours spent in his kitchen.

“You must be from the Philippines.” I said to the woman preparing the instruments for my hygienist.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“My grandfather is from Cebu,” as I waited for her surprise.

“I am from Cebu.” Most people I met would say they were from Manila or tell me they had visited Cebu.

“My grandfather is an Owano.” I was used to locals recognizing his family name since many relatives held political offices and owned land.

“I am an Owano!” By this time the woman trying to clean my teeth was looking back and forth between us, mouth agape.

“Really? Well, my grandfather lives in Florida.”

“Not Bern?”

“That’s my grandfather, Bern Owano.” Now the hygienist was laughing in disbelief.

Joanna, explained that on her first trip to the United States her mother Bernadette stopped in Florida to visit my grandfather and bring him packages. They were cousins and she was named after my grandfather because they shared the same birthday. Joanna insisted that I come to dinner to meet our other cousins. By the time I left the appointment she’d made all the arrangements and gave me her phone number and the address for dinner on Sunday evening.

Sunday I drove to the suburbs of Maryland and to the very same address my grandfather wrote down for me three years earlier. It was the home of an older cousin whose nanny opened the door, took one look at me and, puzzled, called upstairs in Tagalog. All I could make out was the word “Americana”. She invited me in and explained that Joanna had gone to the Metro to pick up some other relatives.

Over the next few hours I was greeted by almost two dozen new relatives who dropped everything to be there. They brought food, introduced me to their children and took out copies of the Owano family tree. They explained that their own grandfather was the uncle my grandfather lived with in Detroit. They all felt so deeply indebted to both men for paving the way for their families to be educated in the United States. This room full of doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants was so excited to meet Bern Owano’s granddaughter.

They explained that my grandfather’s grandfather had two wives and that most of them were descendants of the first wife while I was a descendant of the second. And at one point when they were raising their voices in Tagalog I asked them what it was about.

“Oh, she’s just bragging because now she has a tall blonde on her side of the family,” Joanna pointed to another cousin from wife number two.

Another relative laughed because he had arrived late and thought I must be a American friend of their cousin. He was still patiently waiting to meet her.

That night was my first visit to my grandfather’s homeland and my first roasted pig. They welcomed me like royalty and admired my fair complexion. Somehow the universe brought me to the very place my grandfather wanted me to be. With my Filipino family, my Owano clan, in a big city that seemed like our own little island.

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #27

 

Amazing how a wheelbarrow full of wood can mean the difference between life and death, never mind comfort. Mindful living beats button pushing any time.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

It’s amazing how the simple things bring happiness when we’re brave enough to stop and pay attention.  Please enjoy this lovely piece by Katie Andraski.  yrs. Laura

 

How the Teacher Introduced Herself to her Class on The Joy Diet Or The Teacher Writes About The Happiest Time of Her Life , by Katie Andraski

 

This happy time I’m in now, started with a pot of soup three years ago. It’s been the longest, most consistent time I’ve been happy. My husband, Bruce, and I had just driven five hours from Albany to Bath, Maine. We’d almost bought it three times when semis merged into our lane with us in it. Our nerves were shot. And we were headed for our second family, the Proctors.

I’ve known them since I could think. Gene has told the story that she met my mother when my brother started kindergarten and met her son Bruce. I had to be two, so I’m not kidding about how long I’ve known them.

There are all kinds of stories I could tell you about the Proctors. Martha Beck’s descriptions about how doing nothing can be a frightening exercise because “if you have suffered greatly and not yet resolved your pain, you may find it literally unbearable to become physically still, the moment you really quiet your body, you’ll feel the monsters of unprocessed grief, rage, or fear yammering at the dungeon doors of your unconscious mind” reminds me of my own resistance to taking up Buddhism. Bruce Proctor had challenged me to look into it, but the weird visions a person might see while sitting seemed too close to the demons I didn’t want to welcome into my life. Bruce Proctor literally did nothing for hours on end, days at a time. Sitting practice. I saw him move from a jiggly would-be rock star who couldn’t keep his legs or his eyes still to a man with a calm presence. It was as profound a conversion as I ever saw. Though to be truthful I saw him blast right past that to seeing auras on trees and gremlins hopping in branches and hearing Jesus’ voice. It was creepy how he’d sit on the love seat and weave like a cobra. He’d walked from Paris, Maine to Albany, New York by himself, following old rail beds. He had hooked up with the outfit in Boulder that became known for its excesses and sexual abuse during those years. Eventually he found his way to the Zen Center of New York. Now he photographs his visions using the light and shadow of desert landscapes and junkyards.

I could tell you about Ron Proctor sitting behind me in eighth grade because Proctor came right after Pauley, and he’d kick my chair and call me The Beast. But I was vindicated when I saw what he wrote in Donna Wright’s yearbook how she should be more like me. He is drop dead gorgeous and never been married. One year we were visiting his parents, and he took us to Pemaquid Point, the site of a well-photographed lighthouse where I imagined riding a brown horse along the rocks and into the sea.

He borrowed a skiff and took us to the Kennebec River fishing. The Bath Ironworks are awesome anytime you see them, but we were down in the river looking at sparks bright enough to blind us. Cranes big enough to tower over a naval frigate frightened me; they were so big. Hell, all that iron swept up like cliff faces frightened me. Somehow a hull that is halfway made is more awesome than a finished one. Is it the emptiness that makes it so big? My husband pulled a striped bass as big as he was out of the river. And the water was alive with chop and the amber colors of sunset.

These are men who I fell in love with as a young girl. Bruce Proctor as much as anyone inspired me to write and to think. Ron was my gorgeous classmate. I tried to convert them both to evangelical Christianity in these wonderful arguments about faith and atheism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism. My prayers and Bible readings around them shaped me into the kind of Christian I am, someone not so sure the hellfire preachers of my childhood told the truth. Oh I’d cry they’d come to know Jesus because hell was real as the gravel road and night I walked into. Then the Bible started to speak mysterious things about God not willing anyone should perish, about how praying in God’s will would make it so. So if I prayed for Bruce and Ron, even their whole family to know Jesus, than it was in God’s will, and they’d come to know him. They’d be saved. Don’t ask me how free will plays into this. I don’t know.

The apostle Paul himself talks about the Judeo-Christian mythology—Adam bringing death into the world–universal death that none of us escapes. Then the mystery—Jesus brings life and resurrection to the world, more so than Adam. None of us escapes. As far as I know neither one knows the Lord in the traditional evangelical sense I was thinking of as a kid.

Even after my father tried to talk Bruce into Christ, he’d lean back and say, “I don’t know about that. but you’re my second family,” which flipped when my parents and brother died and suddenly the Pauleys weren’t a family and the Proctors became my second family. It was Bob and Gene who took in my husband, Bruce, and I, giving us a second shot at the kind of love parents give—the pot of soup waiting at the end of a long day kind of love.

The wind had caught the sea at Birch Point, and the water was amber and the wind caught us as we got out of the car, whipping our shirts with enough chill that I didn’t want to walk out to the point. But my beloved Bruce settled himself as the wind and the waves blustered around him as joyously as a barking golden retriever.

Bob and Gene weren’t going to be home when we arrived because they had a wedding to attend. There was a slow cooker of vegetable soup and a pan of chocolate cake, and a Post It note telling us to eat up and enjoy. Which is what Bruce and I did. We took our bowls to the table and looked out their window at the amber light and point jutting across the way with a dock floating at high tide. Opposite us was a lobster boat tied to a buoy. We stared out the window hoping to see the funnels of the Scotia Princess below the horizon as the ship plied her way from Portland to Halifax. On the window ledge was a carved wooden fisherman, a wire hanging down, a line into the air, a line into water.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around themselves. That empty space where people live and move and have their being. The Proctors’ house is bigger than it looks even though it’s built on the foundation of a cabin, Maine’s rules for building on the coast, holding the Proctors to that space. It’s full of nooks and crannies with little things Gene has found at garage sales and flea markets here and there. When I’m there, I delight in looking at the dish full of sea glass, delight in the glass frog I sent one Christmas. I sit in the covered easy chairs, staring at the wooden ships and grandfather clock standing straight like a tall person who doesn’t have to stoop, standing tall under the cathedral ceiling, the moon in its face.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around their guests—two bathrobes hung on hooks in the bedroom, and orange juice on the front porch, the ocean as glassy and quiet as it was chopped the night before, the air balmy.  Gene has stepped into a mother’s role, taking me shopping at Renys, a Maine department store or buying me a necklace and earrings because that’s what moms do for daughters. Bob has told stories of when he worked as a civil engineer in Alaska and New York, family stories that don’t belong to me because I didn’t grow up with them, but stories that welcomed us to the hearth. They have welcomed us into a solitary space and listened when we’ve needed counsel for our lives. And they have delighted in the gifts we’ve sent, the bulb garden that bloomed in January adding color to the front window, and the black raspberry jam Bruce made from wild bushes in the field across the street.

There’s something about simple loving hospitality that helped put me in my skin after a hard, hard winter that was as close to a dark night of the soul as I’ve come, that began with a sentence small as a lemon twist from relatives I wanted to visit, saying in essence, you’re family, but not for Christmas, not even the Christmas right after September 11, when I wanted to touch my own blood. Amazing how a sentence can twist open a whole bottle of loneliness.

It didn’t help to be reading the classic by St. John of the Cross, wishing I wouldn’t go through a dark night of the soul. But sure enough I did. The details aren’t important—my beloved cousin died, my students didn’t come to my classes, my writing turned me inside out so much so that I felt like an emotional burn patient thinking nobody wanted to be my friend I was so dark–but what is important is how one seems to go with the other—mourning shall last for the night, but a shout of joy will come in the morning.

And somehow that pot of soup and cake and wind tossed evening changed everything. Somehow Gene and Bob throwing their arms around us, saying, “It’s so good to see you” stopped the rule of darkness in my life. Stopped it dead in its tracks. Everything flipped, and I found joy and light and quiet in the simplest of things. And the people I felt were far away suddenly drew near on their own, without me doing anything. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it all hinges on a cup of water or should I say a pot of soup.

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