Tag Archives: culture

Re-charge. Re-purpose. Re-dux.

Feed your creativity in Montana at one of my upcoming Haven Writing Retreats
August 7th-11th (Now Booking)
September 4th-8th (Now Booking)
September 18th-22nd (Now Booking)

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Retreat in New York City!

I’m sitting in my bed this fine rainy May Sunday morning in Montana, listening to the robins cheer-cheer-cheerio the way they do when their eggs are about to hatch. A loon just did a drive by and let us all know it, on its way from Beaver Lake where they nest, to Spencer Lake where they hang out in the morning. It’s late for the loons. 8:46 am. Usually they are 6:00 on the dot. Maybe Sundays are casual in the way of loons too.

I got back late last night from a week in New York City.
vendorAnd I feel like I just got shot out of a cannon and finally landed in a soft field. I’m going to lie in that field today. Work on my novel. Drink tea. Process. I have a friend who has a big job in NYC and whenever I call him, he answers, “What’s up? I’ve got two seconds. I’m drinking from the fire hose.” Or “Bullet point it, baby. My hair’s on fire.” I’m usually in pjs in my office in Montana, sitting in stone silence but for birds and the sound of mice in the walls, and I try to pretend I can understand what he’s talking about. I want to be that charged and alive and pressured and important and in demand. Well, I tell myself that anyway. For a few minutes, I try it on for size. It would look like this:

Agent: Laura, where’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year? You gotta keep the momentum up.
Editor: Laura, tick tock. Time’s a-wasting. Your fans are getting antsy.
Social Media guru: Laura, you need to build your Google Plus, chime in at Linkedin, enter the Twittersphere and respond to your mentions, re-tweet, Instagram your weekend, like your friends status updates on Facebook…
Speaking agent– Laura, what’s your brand? You need a brand. What are you an expert in? You gotta be an expert in something if I’m going to book you. I think I can get you on a six city tour but you need a brand.
Mother– Laura, you know television adds another ten pounds onto you. I hear Dr. Oz has a great diet you can upload on the internet.
Children– Mom, the SATs are tomorrow and prom is next week, and I need number two pencils and black strappy sandals.

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

But that’s not really the portrait of my life these days. Believe me, it was for a few years!  But things have calmed down, thank God.  No one’s really asking me for much. My kids are so suddenly independent, though I still make them their school lunches and foot the big bills. But it’s nothing like it was before when their lives required me as the master puppeteer. My career has momentum and mostly requires me sitting in my quiet Montana office, doing what I love to do, and that’s write. Novels. Personal essays for magazines. The occasional stab at a short story. And leading writing retreats ten minutes down the road. Walking in the woods for exercise. Eating meals with my kids when they’re not in the trenches of social life, sporting events, school functions. After years of hard-core pressure in every facet of my life, I’m now sort of the pilot of my drive-by. And like the loons, I’ve let myself be a little loungy on Sunday mornings. It’s a lot like being pregnant, these days. I’m going slow. In creation mode. I’ve had to. You can’t go like that year after year, drinking from the fire-hose, hair on fire…without paying the consequences. And those consequences mean half-hearted prose, half-hearted mothering, half-hearted life. Unlike most professions, mine is totally self-propelled. I don’t have a boss. I don’t have colleagues that I run into at the water cooler. I don’t have employees that I meet with in board rooms. For the most part, it’s me sitting here asking myself: what can I create? And last week the answer was: a week in New York City.stoop

It grew out of winter duldrums and an online introduction to the work of the author and blogger Aidan Donnelley Rowley. She leads a salon in her Upper West Side home called The Happier Hour where she profiles different authors and invites friends to sit informally in her gorgeous squash blossom yellow living room, indulge in wine and finger food and conversation. When she asked me to be the spotlighted author, I knew I had to go. Because here’s what Aidan is up to: she’s creating community. My community consists of my small town in Montana which, since I hole up and write most of the time, can feel a little lonely. My fault, entirely as there’s so much to do here. But I find that my appetite for social life tends to happen when I’m in travelling mode, not writing mode. I long for a room full of city people who live in the throb of humanity and are quick with opinions, questions, challenges that come from the daily cutting of teeth on asphalt. Asphalt filled with any number of things they see and filter– homeless people, lovers, street performers, street fights, sirens, bike messengers, horse and buggies, cops packing guns, doormen, honking cabs.  ball The human heart is the same everywhere, but city people seem to linger less in the field of lengthy conversation; pause less to look around or to notice the “loon.” If they didn’t, their heads would explode.  They live in a constant drum beat, percussion under their feet, foul smells, exotic aromas, cupcake and macaroon and pizza and bagel and coffee options on every street corner. They need their filters.  It’s survival.  So I was ready to go to NYC and don the filters I usually don which allow me to navigate all that throb.

I’m not very good at filters.  I consider myself a pro-noticer.  I stop and notice stuff all day long.  You don’t get called a rubber-necker in Montana.  For the most part in my life, there’s no one there to notice me noticing, so it’s all good.  It usually takes me about 24 hours to filter out the pro-noticing when I’m in the city.  So for 24 hours, I’m always sort of a wreck, especially when I’m in New York City. But a wreck I cherish and long for every spring when Montana wakes up and me along with it.  And a Broadway show, dinner at fabulous restaurants, jaunts to indie bookstores, and meetings with movers and shakers and publishing world decision makers…it’s all so electric.

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My editor’s office at Penguin

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The hallowed halls of the Met

But it was funny this last week in New York.  The filters never came.  They were never needed.  I stayed in Montana mode.   I spent a blissful afternoon at the Met with my friend the fantastic artist Nigel Van Wiek, looking at his favorite paintings, strolling through the collection learning about light and color and painter’s plights.
I had meetings with my excellent star of an editor at Putnam, Amy Einhorn, and chatted shop (publishing houses look like a dorm full of English Majors during exam week, in case you were wondering), dropped by Hearst and went up to the 36th floor which in the magazine world means one thing:  O.  (fingers crossed!), met with online bastions like the wonderful crew at Blogher…and on and on.  I stayed at the Mercer Hotel in Soho and held meetings in their lobby  for one solid day.  I met with my friend who is a 9/11 widow and she generously took me to the memorial which I’d been too scared to see.  Blog post about this deeply profound experience to come…and still…I had no filters.  Even then.  I just took it all in.  And my head did not explode.

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Happier Hour

And then there was Aidan’s Happier Hour, which was a night of sharing about the things I care about most in the way of putting heart and mind to craft, and that’s creativity, self-expression, emotional freedom.  These lovely people wanted to TALK about it all, and we had a powerful powerful evening.  Even Jesse Kornbluth, esq.  (Head Butler) thought so.  (phew…)  Aidan’s account of the evening is also glowing.  As my father used to say, “Takes one to know one.”  My final night, I was lying in my hotel room revving up to meet my producer friend who has HUGE energy, and it occurred to me that the only thing missing in my week of NYC re-dux was a Broadway play.  And do you know that with one phone call, she served up two tickets to the glittery fabulousness of Kinky Boots! kinky One stunner after the next.  No filters necessary.

And somehow, I came out alive, with more inspiration than I’ve had in years, (mountain majesty not included).  I was lit up for a week. And now I’m fried. A spent bulb. The kind you shake and hear that little jangle and know it’s done. I’m back home, in my bed, writing, listening to loons, ready for lilac-time, baby robins , and the quiet of my life under the Big Sky. Thank you, New York and all of you generous, spirited souls!!!

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With author/blogger/Happier Hour host Aidan Donnelley Rowley

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Haven Retreats and “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is” have a trip to the city!

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Fifty Shades of Grey– My Two Cents

As featured on Huff/Post 50

So—zeitgeist being the social tattle-tale that it is, I admit that I recently succumbed to the book phenomenon of, yes…50 Shades of Grey.  I’m fascinated by the collective We and what We want to read.  I once wrote an essay that I never dreamed would get published, and the darn thing went viral and landed me a book deal.  I’ve wondered over and over just why that was.  Because if I could bottle the reason, I might be able to pay for my kids’ college educations.  Not that I’m holding my breath.

On the off chance that you haven’t heard of these books, they would be considered, for lack of a better term…well, smut.  Or as it says on the back of the books, “Erotic Romance/Mature Audience.” Not that there’s anything ultimately wrong with smut.  I just am captivated by the fact that so many many people are so unabashedly hungry for these books.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them were on Michelle Obama’s nightstand.  I have not been captivated enough however to succumb to their charms…until recently.

I don’t usually read smut.  The closest I’ve gotten is Anais Nin in college and maybe a Danielle Steele or two way back when.  In fact, I’m never reading what Everybody Else is reading and maybe that’s on purpose.  I didn’t even read the HARRY POTTER series, never mind anything with a vampire in it.  I read stuff that has my teenager roll her eyes:  poetry and s***.  Not that this makes me better or worse or anything other than just busy and a sucker for poetry and s***.

HOWEVER, a friend recently sent me the 50 Shades trilogy as more or less, a challenge—a dare to be part of the living breathing collective We.  And given this captivation, I decided to take her up on it.  I’ve spent the last month reading these books with disgust and fascination, watching my literary IQ plummet.  Why are these books catapulting like little innocent darlin’s into our mainstream?  Why was the flight attendant on my last plane perfectly content to be reading Book One from her command in the jump seat, full frontal— nary a book cover?  Remember Fear of Flying?  I read that book with brown paper carefully cut and taped around its cover.  Have we no shame these days?  I guess that’s the point, right.  To not have shame.  But seriously…this book is everywhere.  I mean, come on!  Number one, two, and three on the New York Times bestseller list?  Why?  WHY?  As a book author, and as a woman, I had to investigate.

At first I was tempted to scour every last article about it on the internet, but instead, I thought I’d go straight to the source.  From the ladies locker room to the baseball stands, from grocery lines to airport gates…I’ve asked woman after woman what she thinks about this book’s explosion into mainstream America.  And most of them had the same thing to say.

I’ll try to streamline it here:  People want to know that they’re not alone.  I think that’s why we read books.  In the case of 50 Shades, I really don’t think people are going crazy for it because of the sex.  And there’s a lot of it.  (I actually ended up skimming the sex scenes they were so ubiquitous.)  It seems that one of the primary places women in our culture feel alone is in their feminism. This threw me for a loop!  Who knew?  I hadn’t really thought about this before.  According to my research, somewhere along the way, once we got the vote and equality in the work place (though some would say we still have a long way to go in this arena), sexual liberation, and physical rights to our bodies etc…we got stuck.  Stuck in anger.

Anger is good.  It moves mountains.  But being angry at the fact that now we can and do “do it all” in so many cases…feels like a double standard.  And we don’t like that at all.  Take chivalry for instance—we’re supposed to be offended by it.  But are many if not most of us privately wanting chivalry and not feeling like we should admit it?  Hmmm?  Guilty as charged.  How’s that working for us?  Is it?  Do we really hate having the door opened for us, ala 50 Shades’ male character, mega-millionaire Christian Grey?  Do we really despise being seated at a table?  Doted on.  Protected. I don’t know about you, but I love those things.  I feel thought of, respected, and dare I admit: taken care of.  That’s the dirty secret and perhaps part of our anger and I think the baseline reason for the mania around 50 Shades.  When it really comes down to it…what woman doesn’t want to be taken care of?  I can’t speak for men, so I won’t try, and besides, I doubt many of them are reading these books.

I think that E.L. James had a pretty major trick up her sleeve in conceiving these books.  Maybe more so than she thinks, though I haven’t seen her interviewed.  She takes us so far out of our normal realm (that is, if you aren’t into BDSM– Bondage, Dominance, Sadism Masochism), that we can see with new post-feminist eyes that, heck—what’s wrong with our partners providing us a personal trainer to stay fit, a personal chef who cooks us healthy food and makes sure we eat it, beautiful couture clothes, and a great job?  A house we love.  Seriously?  Bring it.

But what drives the reader and the plot, in my opinion and in the running poll I have recently taken, is the dark side of the story which has to do with the “punishment” facet of Grey’s sexual tastes.  The question of pleasure and pain somehow having something to do with each other is new for most people.  I frankly just don’t get that piece and I don’t really want to do THAT research. So I’ll leave it to the therapists out there.  But what I saw in this trilogy was a strong, smart, (even though her vocabulary was appalling—there should be a drinking game called “Oh my”) woman who refuses to stray from her values, even and especially with the pressure of a wildly attractive, successful, powerful man who wants to be her Dominant.  As the book progresses, and a surprise love for each other blooms, she (Anastasia) becomes curious about the dark side of Christian’s past and his sexuality.  And while he agrees to refrain from his usual sexual practices, Ana agrees to let him hit her out of curiosity, but more to see the extent of this man’s darkness.

In the middle of the act, when it becomes too much for her, she fails to keep up her end of the bargain and tell him to stop.  Horrified and understandably so, she leaves and he comes undone because that’s the deal—there are Safe words in BDSM for a reason.  He sees it as a breach of trust.  And this is what is fascinating to me in such a twisted way:  Christian sees the punishment component of what he does in his sexual “playroom” as a way to push limits to, in the end, find…yep, trust.  ???

I can’t imagine letting or even wanting someone to cause me physical pain.  And I certainly can’t imagine that it would somehow bring me to a place of trust.  But then again I have no research in this department.  It’s a gamethat I won’t be playing.  It does however, have me (and millions of readers) wondering about our limits in general, and especially trust in intimacy.  As I was telling my teenaged daughter, any sexual act requires a lot of trust and vulnerability.  And it can be scary to be so trusting because we know damn well that we very easily could get burned.  E. L. James has us looking at trust in a whole new light which gives us new eyes.  With half the marriages out there failing, you can bet that the lack of or loss of trust weighs in somewhere at the top of the list of reasons why.  And what’s interesting about this section of the trilogy is that Ana did not trust herself to know her limits.  A tough pill to swallow when you consider yourself a smart, strong, feminist– which is how her character is packaged.  We’re mad at her just like we’d be mad at ourselves.  As much as we want to hate Christian for hurting her, it’s ultimately something she signed up for and a game she didn’t play well.  Confounding isn’t it.  A double bind.  And so we read on…

Given all this, it’s no small surprise that I spent the first book with my arms crossed, “rolling my eyes,” but as I moved into the second one, I began to see that the protagonist, though she doesn’t ultimately succumb to being a Submissive, was really the one in charge all along.  And what drives her is her deep love and curiosity about this man and his dark past.  She enters into a war with herself.  And what she comes to find is that the more she is “herself” with Christian, the more he sheds his anger and brokenness, and can step into authentic love.  It would look from the outside that he is rescuing her, but really it’s the other way around.

Do I believe in their love?  Yes.  I do.  I won’t give the ending away, but I can say that the mother in me wanted it to end in marital family bliss.  The feminist in me (and maybe the angry feminist in me) wanted it to end similar to my favorite scene in the book:  where Grey drops to his knees in submission in a crazed moment—the love of his life leaving him, so used to control, so knowing that his usual behavior is not going to work with Ana, wanting her beyond any feeling he’s ever known and having no ability to buy his way into getting her…seeing no other choice but to relinquish all control and drop to his knees.  Oh my…that was one powerful scene.  In other words, part of me wanted the third book to end with Ana as the Dominant, holding a riding crop in her hand.

One more note:  for all its “f***ery” it wasn’t really that gory.  I was expecting gerbils and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo craziness.  It was way more “vanilla” than you’d expect, given the way the author sets us up.  And that too drives the reader to endure its scary-bad writing.  Yes, scary-bad.  We’re just plain curious about the whole “playroom” and this darker side of sex. That’s right– even you, Peoria.  Even you.  You told me so in the grocery line.

In the end, it really was a love story.  And it really didn’t promise to be one.  I liked that about it.  And something tells me that…this is not the end.  Will I read Book Four?  Will I see the movie?  Heck.  I just might.  I believe that when a person is that dark and that damaged, it can and usually does come back to haunt them.

Now it’s back to poetry and s***.  It might take Keats to undo the done damage to my literary IQ.

 

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