Tag Archives: dreams

Pilgrimage

Song of the Lark160018_4152498

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
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September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

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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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The Glamorous Writing Life

Kelly Corrigan and Laura Munson Books Inc. San Francisco

So I wanted to be a published author. For A LONG TIME. I used to go to bookstores and hear writers speak and put my head in my hands and pray to God that I could just have the bravery to ask that one question. In fact, I would sweat that question the whole reading. “How do you do this writing life thing?” That was really what I wanted to know. How? How? How?

I asked a few of them. Isabelle Allende. Natalie Goldberg. Anne Lamott. They told me to pray. Put inspiring messages under my keyboard. Make mango tea. And I did. And I wrote. And yeah– I got published. And here I am…still writing. And wondering. And TRIPPING OUT on the fact that people come to hear me say things at bookstores and at conferences and at my Montana Haven retreats. With that same look in their eyes, head in their hands. I so get it. And I just want to say one thing: DO THE WORK! No tea or inspiring message or prayer (well maybe prayer) can help you. The work is IT.

I just had the pleasure of doing a gig with the fab writer Kelly Corrigan in San Francisco. My daughter took this photo as we were walking in. I can promise that the two of us felt honored that people showed up to hear us have a conversation about life etc. And I can promise that we both felt a bit weird too. We happen to write. And people read what we write. And that rocks the free world, especially after writing a LOT of things that nobody has read. (see: me…not Kelly).  Still, I love that my daughter captured this moment in which we are two women, walking into a bookstore with an audience waiting, with our bags and our hopes of delivery, and our vulnerability. We even had a heckler. So there you have it. The ego really never explodes. We just keep creating. May you create something you love today. yrs. Laura

p.s.  Kelly is FREAKING hilarious!

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The Next Big Thing

Wherever you are in your life of self-expression…come to Montana and WRITE!

Last week, my writer friend Susan Pohlman tagged me to participate in the Next Big Thing online event.  Answering questions that might shed a light on the writing life is one of the things that makes my heart sing, so I was happy and honored to participate. The Next Big Thing is a way for authors and bloggers to share the news about their most exciting upcoming projects.  Susan is the author of  the memoir Halfway to Each Other, an inspiring book about how she and her husband saved their marriage when it was in near ruin, by leaving life as they’d known it behind, and creating a new life with their family in Italy.   She blogs here.

So here’s my attempt at answering these questions about my current writing journey:

What is the working title of your book?

I have never been good at naming things, my children included. My publisher chose the title for my memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, which on her part was a stroke of genius, but from my end has gifted me a fairly decent bout with carpal tunnel. In other words, my next book’s title is going to be a four letter word. For now it’s called NAME THIS BOOK:  A Love Story.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I have wanted to write a love story from the beginning, and when I say beginning, I mean fourth grade. But since I have a personal moratorium on writing sunset and sex scenes, it’s been a challenge. Also, people tend to die in my books, and you really can’t compete with Shakespeare in that regard. I’ve written many unpublished and un-submitted novels, and my only published book oddly enough, is a memoir. As much as I love the creative non-fiction voice, my true love is fiction. I think it’s because of the way you can play on the page with story, characters, narrative drive, empathy. I love crawling into characters and situations I haven’t known, and seeing what it’s like to breathe that ozone. And who doesn’t want to breathe a love story? The inherent problem is, however (and there’s always an inherent problem), that in every story there must be a conflict. And so yes…maybe somebody needs to die. We’ll see. I’m on page 348 and I can’t figure out the ending. Right now they’re standing in a labyrinth in Mexico, where they’ve been since early August and my writing retreats began and my writing practice flew out the window for, yes, better ozone.  At least for awhle.  Sometimes it’s nice to give back and not just be this head floating around on the blank page in this dark office in Montana…

What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It’s not finished, but generally, it takes me about six months. And then another year or so to get the final draft. That was before I was a published author, however. Now, with all that is suggested/required cyberly speaking and in other avenues of the career track (speaking, teaching, leading retreats, etc.) I am finding myself out of a practice which has religiously yielded 5-8 pages daily for my entire adult life. In other words, if you were to sit where I sit at this writing, and look over your right shoulder, you’d see a lavender couch with four stacks of paper peeking out from its nether regions. And if you looked closer, you’d see that they are covered in the dirt from a wet, free-range Montana black lab, sprinkled with mouse turds. It’s nothing short of depressing. I try not to look. I keep telling myself that I have a date with winter. But then again, I told myself I had a date with summer too. And fall. Deep sigh. I’m going to place my money on winter being an exceptional lover.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, that’s easy. Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts. Except for someone else I know already got them. So…I dunno. Maybe Edward Norton and Scarlett Johansen. Just not Owen Wilson. Please God. Not Owen Wilson. I don’t know what Woody Allen possibly saw in him.

For what it’s worth, I doubt a production company would take on a movie with over fifty locations… Unless they could make the SAT equation: Italy is to Greece as Turkey is to the South of France and Morocco and Central Park and London and Paris and Nantucket and the San Juan Islands and Big Sur and Montana and southeast Asia and Cumberland Island, Georgia and… Takers?  Steven?  James?  George?  Woody?  OK fine:  Owen?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
My book chronicles two lovers from the ages of fifteen through fifty, from both their points-of-view, as they meet all over the world at critical stages of their lives.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have a great agent and we have not attempted a book deal prior to completion of the book. I have every confidence that she will kick some New York butt once it’s ready to go and I hope that she’ll land another book deal for me, preferably with my amazing editor at Putnam, the great and powerful Amy Einhorn, esq.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Well, I’m slightly terrified by this because I haven’t read The Notebook, haven’t seen the movie, and wouldn’t want to sign up for either of the above. It’s not my kind of writing. And yet, I was describing my book to my teenaged daughter, and she said, “Mom, it sounds like The Notebook.” I haven’t read a lot of love stories, really. I think I’d call my favorite book, Dalva, a love story. And Legends of the Fall, both by my favorite author, Jim Harrison. I like an edge on a love story. And I think that’s why my characters are stuck in a labyrinth in Mexico…they don’t want to go to the edge and find a parachute. They just want to free fall and I don’t want to go all Thelma and Louise at the end. You kinda can’t top that, you know? I think they need a carrier pigeon or the Wizard of Oz’s hot air balloon or something. Anyone have any ideas? No letter openers or poison ink or cyanide, please. But also…no picnics or on-your-knees confessionals. Can you feel my pain?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
If I told you that, I might end up in the Hudson River in cement boots. Suffice it to say, a girl can dream, can’t she? Suffice it to say that sometimes when real life is delivering you lemons, a novel can be an exceptional lemonade stand and if it’s YOUR lemonade stand…well then you get first licks. And if you’re in your mid-forties, that might involve vodka. Probably not the answer you were looking for.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
In many ways, this book reads like a travel log, and I’ve had fantasies about writing an accompanying travel book. I have kids at home still, so that’s not probably in the cards. But I think the novel could serve as one in and of itself, without totally exploiting the special places in which these characters meet– all near and dear to my heart.

I also think that to follow a plot outside of the mundane travails of a typical life, that finds two people in different times of their life, in different places, in different forms of physical, emotional, and spiritual being…is disorienting enough to trigger an openness to that which exists between life’s general compass…like energy and negative space and quantum leaps and things that you don’t really get a grasp on from the 9 to 5 of regular living. Or something like that. In short, the suspension of time begets the suspension of disbelief. I like being the reader who experiences this, and I like being the writer who creates it.

And now I would like to pass the torch to writers I love and who have inspired me.  We are all sisters in words.  And so it goes.

 

Priscilla Warner co-authored the NYT bestseller The Faith Club, then toured the country for three years, speaking to interfaith groups from Boise to Boston. In the skies above Oklahoma, she read about Tibetan monks who meditated so effectively that neuroscientists were studying their brains, and vowed to find her inner monk. Learning to Breathe – My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life became an instant bestseller after Priscilla’s appearance on The Today Show. She’s written for MORE Magazine, Huffington Post and Psychology Today and is currently working on a memoir about her mother, making jewelry and blogging/bragging about her new puppy at PriscillaWarnerBooks.com
Links: The Faith Club  Learning to Breathe  Today Show  Priscilla Warner Books 

Beverly Willett had her life reinvented for her ten years ago when her husband of 20 years walked out and served her with divorce papers. One day she was a happy, ex-NYC-entertainment attorney turned stay-at-home mom; the next she found herself in divorce court battling to save her family. After her unwanted divorce was final, she wanted to let other families know about the pitfalls of divorce.  Nora Ephron at Huffington Post Divorce asked her to write for their launch, and her blogs there and at The Daily Beast and Salon began to go virile. Last year, she partnered to form a volunteer divorce reform organization called the Coalition for Divorce Reform. Beverly is represented by The Bent Agency and is at work on a memoir, blogging for HuffPost, the CDR and her own blog, and has some other projects up her sleeve.

Katherine Jenkins is the author of Lessons from the Monk I Married, about her 15-year journey with her husband, a former Korean Buddhist monk. Her book received great reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Beliefnet, Wisdom a la Carte, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, and Shambhala Sun, which called it “…travel writing at its best.” The book is part memoir, part spiritual guide, part travelogue and was nominated for a Pacific Northwest Book Award. Katherine also blogs daily lessons and tidbits about life at http://www.lessonsfromthemonkimarried.blogspot.com She lives in Seattle with her husband Yoon, a popular yoga teacher and owner of Yoon’s Yoga Bliss in the Seattle area. Katherine and Yoon have conducted yoga/writing retreats nationally and internationally. Their next retreat will be in Kona, Hawaii, March 20-26. Limited space is available, so please e-mail info@yoonsyogabliss.com to inquire about this retreat and to secure your spot.

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To a Young Writer

I was recently asked to write down some writing advice to a young person who loves to write and needs some guidance. There’s practically nothing I’d rather do. Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” largely shaped who I am as a writer and a person today. The following is what came out of me. Please feel free to share it with anyone– young, or old, or in-between who needs a little help in this category. Writing ain’t for sissies, and we need a little hand-holding/nudge every-so-often. yrs. Laura

Write what you HAVE to write.

Don’t give up.

Write and write and write.

And write.

Don’t believe in writer’s block.

Don’t worry about getting published.

When you think you’ve gone deep enough, go deeper. And then go deeper.

Think of yourself as an archaeologist and you want to crack the case on the cavewoman.

What did she worry about? What did she do to find comfort?

Tell people, “I am a writer.”

Hold your head up high when they look confused, and even judgmental.

Allow yourself to be misunderstood in life and on the page.

Believe in yourself.

Only you can tell your story the way you can tell it.

When you sit down to write: get butterflies in your stomach. Feel like it’s a snow day.

Always believe that you have something to say.

Always know that you have nothing to say.

Say it anyway.

Be brave.

Be kind to yourself.

Believe. Receive. It’s all happening.

All you have to do is show up.

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Are You Wanting to Start a Business? Here’s some inspiration…

When people advertise on my blog, I like to champion them, especially when they have created something powerful from pain.  I’d like to introduce you to Renee at Monogram Mama who will be advertising at These Here Hills.  Click on her great ad (right side bar) and go check her out.  What a great example of reinvention.  I am inspired.

I grew up terribly terribly preppy– pink monogrammed sweaters, monogrammed towels, gave monogrammed boxers to my high school boyfriend– heck my mother’s CAR is monogrammed…  And so Monogram Mama feels like an old friend.  Here’s to some shopping therapy.  To all of you who want to start a business but it seems too daunting…here’s her story.   May it inspire you to live your dreams and dream your life:

 

LM:  How did the idea for your business hatch?  What made you go from hatch to fledge?

MM: In the Summer of 2011 my husband decided he wanted a divorce.  I had not worked full time in 10 years because I have been raising four daughters.  Honestly, I was so frightened that I would not be able to support my children.  I read
your book and became inspired.  I took a hard look at my life and what dreams I had been pushing to the side.  One of those was to own a business and the other was to live at the beach.  But how was I going to do it?  For over four months I researched existing businesses to buy and I came upon a company that sold retail websites.   I had an idea to create my own and I hired them to create the site and teach me the ropes. I love monograms!  So, Monogram Mama was born and I am very proud of what I have created. And this month I am moving to the coast.  I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel of my heart healing and my soul at peace.

LM:  What inspires you?

MM: Hands down my daughters are my inspiration every day.  There have been days that I have been crying so hard that I didn’t think I could take another breath but then I think of them and I push forward.  They look up to me and they believe in me.  All five of us realize that this is my time to soar and succeed.  I want to teach them to believe in their dreams and make them happen.

LM:  Did you experience any negative self-talk around creating your business? If so, how did you move through it?

MM: Every day!  In those first months after my husband left I didn’t think I was capable of even boiling water!  But I began to journal and I would print inspirational quotes and put them on the wall in front of my computer.  My girls also continued to
push me forward if I started doubting myself.  We are definitley a house full of strong women!

LM:  What is your vision for your business?

MM:  I want Monogram Mama to be one of the Top 3 monogramming sites in the country.  I plan for it to support me and my children and allow me to begin fulfilling my dreams of traveling to Africa and India.

LM:  Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it? If not, what would it be?

MM:  I don’t have a mission statement.  What makes my site different from the others is the fact that it’s personal.  I want the customers to know “Mama”.  I hand pick each item on the site, I respond personally to any questions and I blog about other ways to bring a monogram into your life.  I don’t want to lose that personal touch.

LM:  What advice would you give other people who want to create something but are stuck?

MM:  The biggest thing I believe we all need to do in our lives is to listen to our inner voice. For years, I was ignoring mine and it was trying to tell me my life was out of balance.  It has not been easy to be still and listen.  Honestly, listening has changed my life.

LM:  What has been the best part of starting your own business?

MM: Meeting all of the amazing women! The company that built my site is owned by a woman who is not only smart but very strong.  She has built her company from the ground up, employs only incredible women and is a breast cancer survivor!  Also, the majority of the merchandise that I carry is created by women.  It has been a blessing getting to know them and their stories.  I appreciate each day being surrounded by them and learning from them.

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Breaking Point: #9

A word from Laura:  I want to thank everybody for their vulnerability—my favorite quality.  Your Breaking Point stories are stunning.  Since this series ends on the first day of Spring, I am closing submissions.  But I encourage all of you to consider doing this exercise for your own personal growth.  The people who have shared their breaking point stories at These Here Hills tell me that it was a powerful and healing experience going back to a time that was so painful, and seeing how out of it…they grew into the people they are.  That is good news.  It means that we use pain.  It’s not wasted.  So wherever you are in your life, remember that.  Fasten it to your heart in those early morning hours as you lie awake worrying about the future, feeling shameful about the past, feeling that fight or flight buzz in your stomach that just won’t quit.  You are not alone.  Know that life is ever-changing.  That you can count on.  Have a great weekend!  I will continue to post the already submitted Breaking Point stories until March 20th, so stay tuned for more.  I hope they are helping you. 

Yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Sue Engle, who blogs here.

I turned my back on a 30-year career in Information Technology last year, after yet another “good job” disappeared. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time.  I have a degree in Writing and Editing, and I used it to make my living through business analysis and technical writing, moving my prose from my right brain to my left – from creativity to technology. But it was never the way I actually thought and approached life. It became more and more a struggle to force myself to think logically rather than intuitively. I was fighting myself every day I showed up at work.

The places I looked for a different path during this 30 years were concentrated on the spiritual and psychological – graduate school in counseling, seminary, religious education, developing a web site to provide a life planning service, extensive reading in psychology and spirituality, and active prayer and mediation practice. All of these brought me closer, but none of them completely filled the hole, the drive.

The whole process of learning I had finally left technology took longer than I thought… nearly six months. It was a hard mindset to leave behind. For a few months, I kept thinking I could go back part-time, or do certain tasks that didn’t trigger complete revulsion. Some position that I could use to fund my next life, fill the chinks in the budget that was being destroyed by living on unemployment. What triggered the switch was an interview where I didn’t get the IT job…actually, both the manager and I agreed I wasn’t the right fit. But he was impressed enough by my resume and attitude that he wanted to try to find a spot for me. I thanked him and came home to begin eating my way through the house, even though I’d finally been able to bring my appetite down over the last couple of months and had lost about five pounds. I realized that I was in the middle of a panic attack over the thought of going back to technology, and I knew I was done.

So what could I do? I’d been playing around with the idea of life coaching for a while. For years, co-workers had teased me about the “couch” installed in my office, where there was usually someone parked a couple times a week telling me about their problems. Not exactly a service most technical staff listed on their resumes, but definitely a hallmark of mine. This is what led me into a year of grad school in counseling, but I realized that I didn’t want to spend years letting people chew on their histories – I was far too results-oriented to give that much time to it. I worked too hard on understanding and getting beyond my own past to live in someone else’s story.

Thus the appeal of life coaching, once I found out about it. At one point a friend and I started talking about writing a book together one day, which morphed to developing a series of workshops, then a web site to offer a life planning service. We knew we needed content for the site and as the writer, that became my arena. I began writing from my right brain again on life transitions, and discovered pure joy and the more I wrote, the wiser I became. My own “aha!” moments led to insight I could communicate to all. Once this business was put aside, I knew this was content I could mine for my own site.

But it was so hard to get started.  I was unemployed, and I wasn’t bringing in enough income to cover the bills. At times I was absolutely paralyzed with fear over my prospects. I knew I was following my calling, but how was I going to manage it on no money?  And what should I do first? I couldn’t get past the starting gate.

Then I won a three-month membership in a group for prospective coaches, which included free coaching.  The encouragement inched me a little further forward. I worked out a deal with a friend to do some mutual coaching. A neighbor needed some coaching. But money still wasn’t coming in and I wasn’t writing, either. I worked a part-time temp job to help out a little, but it fell through just before the holidays. Bills were piling up, but somehow I was getting by.

I had a friend come over for the weekend to give both of us some distraction. I moaned for an hour, then she’d had enough. She set my woes to a cheesy C&W tune and through laughter, convinced me that I was born to do this work. Then we brainstormed names, taglines, and themes the rest of the night. The next day, she papered my house in encouraging sticky notes while I was away. I just found another one yesterday!

Later in the week, I was past due on the car and the rent, too. I was panicky again, looking around at my furniture to see what I could sell. Then I realized I had $25 on a credit card I’d forgotten. I could spend it on food, a bill, or I could get started on my life. I got busy, centered myself, and quit panicking.

Nine hours later, I had settled on a domain name, set up a basic web site, ordered cards, set up my blog, written the first blog post, and updated my online profiles. I started putting out blog posts three times weekly. Then the miracles started pouring in. I won marketing tools, more free coaching, and even was published online within two weeks of starting my blog! Money started trickling in; still not enough to pay all the outstanding debt, but enough to keep me going.

Two months later, I’m still seeing serendipity every time I move further forward on my path. If I veer, possibilities dry up and fall away. It’s still chancy… I don’t know anymore where I’ll be in a month and what I’ll have, but I know beyond any doubt I will have what I am building and more. I am flying further every day, soaring on miracles.

 

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Snow Fool


Last week, my husband and my kids were taking a hot tub. I was in Florida doing some readings, and my daughter sent me this photo. I honestly cannot begin to understand how this image is a piece of prestidigitation. This is my son’s face. Pressed into the snow. EXACTLY his face. Perhaps it is so correct given his hot and sweaty skin from the tub. But how is it possible that it looks as if it is in relief? As if he is from the other side, pressing his face against the surface of the snow, skyward? Sometimes, I swear that kid is magic. This morning, I was worrying about the ice on our fairly vertical driveway descent. He was in the back seat. I uttered not one word, and he said, “Don’t worry, Mom.” I didn’t even confront the fact that he’d read my mind because he does it all the time. Is it because we share the same life and his thoughts leapfrog the same events and emotions that mine do? Is it because he knows me? I can tell you that plenty of people know me, but no one consistently says outloud what I’m thinking. Sometimes he’ll actually answer questions I’m thinking but haven’t yet spoken. It’s gotten to a point where I don’t even acknowledge that he’s done it in the first place. I just continue the dialogue as if it’s been verbal all along.

I used to be a cynic about stuff like this. And lately, I find myself open in ways I never have been. What is the purpose of cynicism? Does it keep us from being called a fool? I guess I don’t care about being called a fool anymore. I am a fool. I want to be a fool. Bring it on. I want to see faces in the snow. I want to hear a robin in the too-early late winter and think I’ve been chosen. I want to enter into the language of unspoken words. I want to see shooting stars and think that wishes come true. I want to believe, not doubt. I want to say yes. Here’s what Mary Oliver has to say about it:

Morning Poem
Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver

© Mary Oliver

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Life List

I was speaking recently to a well-known writer about success. “It’s all about the work,” she said. She then proceeded to list all her accomplishments. Short of a Naional Book Award or a Pulitzer, she’d pretty much achieved “it all.” Multiple published novels and memoirs. Rave review in the New York Times. Stories in the New Yorker, Atlantic, Paris Review, Granta. Regular columns in glossy magazines and major newspapers. Yadoo and McDowell residencies. Teaching gigs in the Ivies. She knows a lot of other writers who have achieved the same accolades as she, check check check check check. And she told me something that breaks my heart, especially for writers, but anyone can relate with what she said: Without that Pulitzer, those writers pine away in levels of self-loathing and criticism. When is it enough? And if they do get that National Book Award or that Pulitzer…will it be enough THEN? It’s all in the books, she said. “Creative ambition is one thing. Career ambition is another.”  You better watch out for the latter.

It’s what I’ve known all along. It’s how I’ve been living for the last 17 years out here, tucked into my Montana life, writing books and raising kids. The “prize” I’ve had my eye on is writing the best books I can possibly write. For a while it became about getting them published, but I had to let that go because it was eating me alive. My job was to write the best books I could write, send them to my agent, and let go of the rest. My job was to get back to work writing books. And once I did, that’s when I, in fact, “achieved” that “prize.” I’ve loved that “prize” because I get to have readers. I get to speak to audiences and try to inspire unpublished writers not to give up. And I got paid, which has given me the gift of more writing time.

But I know, that no matter what kind of list I have in my own mind about accolades I’d like to receive for my hard work, that list is secondary to the creative ambition that asks me good questions like, “How can I breathe this character into life?” “How can I imbue this unlikeable character with a humanity so true that the reader will love them despite their mistakes?” “How can I make this book sing?”

This to say that I think there are different kinds of lists in regard to dreams. I think it’s important to have them. I think it’s important to take a dream scan of your wildest ones and write them down. Maybe put that list somewhere like a little altar that you occasionally smile at or nod at or bow to…glad that you have dreams in the first place. But I think, after that, it’s a deep breath and a committment to the work at hand. I believe that with that committment, we move into those dreams. Creating our moment begets more creating, and suddenly we’ve blown through a few items on that list without even “trying.” Check check check. Our intentional living has birthed that dream child.

The difference between wanting and creating is something I wrote about in my memoir. Those dreams were born inside us, and while they often have to do with something outside of us and outside of our control with variables that have to do with other people and other places…we still can begin the arch that lands in the creating of them simply by acknowledging that we’ve dreamed them in the first place. I have my list. I no longer look at it, wanton. Covetous and clinging. I look at it like a character in one of my novels– I can breathe it alive. But that begins right here, in my moment, in me.

This morning, a certain teenaged girl in my life, asked me to print out something for her for school. It was an assignment: 30 thing you want to experience in your life. I of course read the list, smiling and teary. It was so inspiring and raw and real and huge-minded and huge-hearted and yet so much about the creative spirit I know so well that dwells in her bones– that dwells in things she creates every day in our little town in Montana…that I asked her if I could share it here. Give it a read. What do you want for your list? What can you create today that might breathe some of those dreams alive?

Life List
1. Receive certification as a scuba diver and then go to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
2. Become multilingual in French, Italian and German so I can live in Europe without getting the “American” treatment.
3. Ski where no one has ever been
4. Work at a bakery
5. Live in New York City
6. Do something completely humbling
7. Travel in another country after senior year in high school
8. Photograph a sleeping turtle
9. Meet a wild dolphin
10. Make orange juice from oranges I picked from a tree in my backyard
11. Live alone for a while
12. Climb a tree and make a fantastic tree house
13. Go to Columbia University
14. Build an igloo
15. Be completely independent and self sustained
16. Live sea-side, mountain-side, city-side
17. Read all Chronicles of Narnia books
18. Do something that gives me an insane adrenaline rush
19. Become ambidextrous
20. Never lose my love to run
21. Help a family in need
22. Ride on the back of an elephant
23. Live without a cell phone or the internet for as long as I want
24. Drift along in a hot air balloon
25. Learn to be content
26. Swim on the equator
27. Explore the Alaskan coast
28. Visit my Swiss heritage lands
29. Go to every state in the United States
30. Kayak through a river

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What's Not Said

I love this photograph. I found it recently and lifted it from my mother’s house. (Sorry, Mom. Will send back soon. I’ve never done that before, I swear.) Here’s what I love: it’s a moment between moments. Two sets of parents at the wedding of their only children, from two very different backgrounds and social demographics, aligned for the rest of their lives through the lovely young man and woman at center. The moment between things, where looks are being delivered in the raised-eyebrow packages that they are. Proverbial ribs are being elbowed. Dreams are being re-charged and debunked. I wish I had a bubble over each of their heads. What is my mother saying to my father out of the side of her bridely mouth? What is my father’s father communicating to my mother’s father with that over-the-spectacle look? Is the whole iconic experience of their only child’s wedding not as they had dreamed after all those months of planning? Is myth in the end just that? Is there talk about virginity about to be lost? Dowry content? Does someone have to go to the bathroom? Or do they feel like MGM Hollywood greats for a day? Superstars. Alabaster sculptures. These are my elders– all such ladies and gentlemen. But here, to me they look like kids. I love this picture for that.

Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that your parents weren’t just parents, but that they were human beings with needs and weaknesses and fears and dashed dreams? That they were young like you once? Looking at photos like this help. It didn’t make it into the wedding album, where everybody’s lips and teeth and arms are in the “right” place. But still it wasn’t ripped up and thrown away either. Something about it was worth saving. The heart doesn’t want things all lined up. It speaks a different language– the language that is being spoken here. And so it doesn’t really matter then what they were saying. Only that they were saying it, and that one generation gets to be let in on the heart language of another.

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