Tag Archives: education

Teacher Appreciation Week: A Q&A for your favorites!

Haven Writing Retreats

Helping the written word be the teacher it is!

I never thought I’d be a teacher.  I still don’t actually call myself one.  I’m more of a facilitator.  The design of my Haven Writing Retreat is the ultimate teacher.  The writing exercises.  The readings.  The guided feedback.  The community of word-lovers.  And of course, Montana.  I hold the whole thing, ’tis true.  And I love it with all my heart.

Doing this work has had me in reflection about the teachers who have shaped me, some of them no longer with us, but forever in my head and hopefully in my prose.  Favorite lines like, “Get rid of the bombast and the deadwood!”  (Gordon McKinley, Westminster school).  ”Good Morning, Miss Munson,” (Malcolm Coates, yanking on my pony-tail as I was nodding off, making me read William Safire On Language out loud from the NYT magazine.  9th grade.  Lake Forest Country Day School).  Memorizing Desiderata in 7th grade and reciting it as a class.  (Scott Bermingham, LFCDS). “You will get an automatic F if you use the Passive Voice.”  (Thank you, English Department, Westminster school.  BTW, I can still recite Sonnet 18.  Shall I compare thee…).  ”You really should think seriously about going abroad for an entire year.”  (Nan Shiras.  Spanish class.  6th grade.  LFCDS).  ”It was supposed to be an hour-long presentation on the Bruges Madonna, Laura.  Not a short story about it being stolen by the Nazis from Mary’s point of view.”  (D minus.  Later published in a literary journal.  Rab Hatfield.  Junior Year abroad.  Syracuse University.  Florence, Italy campus).  The answer Yes to this:  ”I’d like to do an independent study on crayon drawing.  But what I’m really doing is buying time to work on a novel.”  (Tony Stoneburner– Senior year.  Dension University).  And perhaps the defining moment of my life:  ”This is not cinema, Ms. Munson!  Take this (full length screenplay) to the fools in the English Department!” (Elliot Stout , Cinema department– Denison University).  And the consequent, “Where have you been for the last three years?  I’m putting you in the advanced Creative Writing class.”  (Dick Kraus, English department– Denison University).  Bless you people.  And so many more, of course.

Last week, I was inspired by a two time Haven Writing Retreat alum and retired teacher, Donna Naquin, to honor some of my favorite teachers.  By the magic of social media, I found them, and asked them if they would answer these questions, or at least a handful of them.  I will be posting their responses here on May 15th.  I invite you to use this questionnaire with your favorite teachers.  Feel free to email the responses to me and I will post the top five here.  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com  

Q&A for Teachers (current and retired)   (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

What gets you (got you) out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Will books ever die?

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info and to set up a time to talk, email Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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We Must Hunger for Our Voice!

How do we commit to our creativity regularly?  Powerfully?  With a hunger that we sate…over and over again?  How do we find our unique voice and give ourselves permission to let it roar out of us?

Helping you find the answer to these questions is my central mission these days.

If you’re wondering what a Haven Retreat is all about, hear it straight from its proud founder!  Come to Montana and share what over 300 from all over the world have experienced.  You do NOT have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…

2015 Haven Schedule:

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (filling fast)
September 23-27 (filling fast)
October 7-11
October 21-25

Radio show with Kink FM host Sheila Hamilton


LMWritingHaven

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The Inner Critter: Awareness First. The Writing Will Follow.

inner critter

As featured in Huffington Post

I recently had a woman come on my Haven Writing Retreat and say, “I learned more in five days of Haven than in my entire MFA program…and I’m still paying it off six years later!”  I hear this sort of overture all too often, and it concerns me.  I also hear, “I’m still chiseling my way out of my college Creative Writing classes and some of the emotional damage I endured there.”  Same goes for many writing workshops that people take in hopes of learning more about their unique voice and how to cultivate it through craft, feedback, and the help of a strong teacher.  It takes guts, putting yourself out there like that.  And it saddens me that while there are so many incredible teachers and writing programs…so many people come in to an instructional writing environment with their hearts in their hands, shivering a bit in their boots, taking a leap of faith with the belief that they will be held responsibly by the experience and the people in it…only to have their guts gutted.  Not on my watch!

My approach is to help people take that heart-in-the-hand and turn it into heart language…and that is a very delicate process.  At my retreats, feedback is something that comes second.  First, we must learn to have the courage to find our most white hot triggering subjects, to free-fall into them, to surface with words on the page and share them out loud without scrutiny– to simply have them heard, to trust that in-so-doing we are helping others to cultivate their ear, and to finally understand once and for all that our voice is unique.  It’s real.  It matters.  And that massive act doesn’t start with creating something that we splay open for people to feast on or send back to the kitchen.

It all begins with self-awareness.

Sounds lofty?  It isn’t.  I hear over and over people saying, “I’m stuck.”  Or “Why does my writing even matter?”  Or “Who do I think I am?  Nobody asked me to write.  It’s self-indulgent drivel at best.”  Or “I’m not good enough.”  And do you know who is delivering up those words?  The inner critic.  (I like to call it the Inner Critter.)   Most of us are not even aware of that voice that lives inside us, viciously so.

Unfortunately, I have been in a long-term abusive relationship with my Inner Critter for years.  My Inner Critter poses as an Ivy League tweed-clad professor, and I tend to assign immediate power to anyone boasting to have a “smart” bespectacled academic Joyce-ean opinion, especially about writing.  For years, I allowed that snivelly old sod to rule the roost in my writing chair.  Then one day I heard someone say, “You wouldn’t treat your worst enemy the way you treat yourself in your own mind.”  And I realized:  That’s who I’ve become.  That’s what’s in my way. I am my own worst enemy.  I hadn’t even been aware of it until that moment.  It wasn’t that I ever, for one second, stopped writing.  It was that I hadn’t given myself permission to understand that no one on earth can write like I can.  It’s not possible.  Each writer’s voice is as unique as a snowflake.  Or a grain of sand.  Or a finger print.  Or your Grandma’s apple pie.

So I declared war.

For awhile, I tried to exorcise the Inner Critter into the Inner Critter Sh**ter, deeming her the enemy and treating her thusly.  That didn’t work.  Because even though she was a confluence of many people and institutions of my life, I’d created her, invited her to live in my mind, and fed her the fat along with the lean.  Declaring war on her meant that I was in a war with myself.  Not a great place from which to tease the muse.  The muse just stood there chewing gum twirling her keys, waiting for me to get a clue.  Turns out, she has really great keys to really great worlds as long as I know how to take care of what goes on in my mind.  The inherent problem with this was that not only hadn’t I been aware of how I was treating myself in my mind, I also had become used to it.  And habits are hard to break.  In all honesty, the Inner Critter liked living in my mind (why wouldn’t she—such five star accommodations?) and frankly, she was a better fighter than I was.

Haven Patron Saint-- SIster in Words

Haven Patron Saint– Guarding the Muse from the Inner Critter

So I took another tack:  I decided that the Inner Critter was really just a scared little girl that lives inside me with a large megaphone to my heart.  And if my daughter came in to my room in the middle of the night raging over a bad dream I wouldn’t kick her out.  I’d hug her, love her, calm her until she went back to sleep.  I tried it, and it worked!  I learned to daily lullaby my Inner Critter into a long nap so that my muse and I could unlock the world of possibility I so longed to explore.  To enter, and to play!  We knew how to do this when we were children.  We just lose our way a little (or a lot) as we go.

I believe that we need to begin here if we are to paint that world with the broad strokes of a Creator all the way to the exacting Pointillism that shows the holy in the mundane—the nouns our hands touch.  It takes heart-in-the-hand-self-aware-guts to go at this thing called the Writing Life.  And once we have all of this in its right place…we can start to know what Picasso meant when he said, “If they took away my paints I’d use pastels.  If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.”  Or what Michelangelo meant when he said that the sculpture was in the stone; it was his job to release it.

Once we are in that free place of creation, we begin to hunger for our voices.  Why?  Because we are in a natural flow.  Once we are in that flow, it even gets easy.  We’re no longer in our way.  We understand that with every single thing we write, there is an inherent problem.  Of course there is.  Our job is to find the problem and solve it.  The Inner Critter can’t scare us with this challenge any more.  We understand that with every story and every character, real or imagined, there is conflict, and that conflict is blessed terrain.  It’s where all the good questions and good answers live.  Once we have solved a few of these writerly “problems” and rolled around in the conflict that they embody…what was once scary now becomes our guide into the great wilderness of the world we are drawing with our words.  Then we are ready to give and receive feedback for our work.   Then we can get into the elements of style like plot arc, characterization, narrative drive.  Then we can get into the scenes and breathe our characters alive.  Then we can allow their minds to be in the clouds, and their feet to be on the ground.  Then we can show exactly who they are in the way they make a bed.  We don’t need to tell a thing.  It’s all shown.  It’s all there.  We’ve released the sculpture from the stone.  And the heart of the world we’ve created…beats all on its own.

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What I Learned on Career Day…

career
as featured in Huffington Post 50

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel of professionals for Career Day at a local therapeutic prep school in the Montana woods. I had no idea what to expect. I went to a prep school, but not a “therapeutic” one. I went to one that was all about having big answers to the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you- grow-up” question. As a dreamy, driven teen, it was a challenge that both daunted and inspired me throughout my high school career. My dreams were always out-of-the-box — an artist of some sort — an actress, maybe a film-maker … but luckily I was someone who figured out how to be comfortably in-the-box, keeping my out-of-the-box thoughts mostly to myself. So I wrote a lot. That practice turned into an obsession which turned into a craft which turned into a career. That was the goal for this Career Day: panelists were supposed to tell our stories — talk about the arc of our careers, then and now. But we weren’t talking to in-the-box kids. It turned out, we were talking, quite frankly, to our interior adolescent selves.

Given the nature of the students at this school, I knew that my story had to be as transparent and true as possible. These weren’t kids who dance to any level of BS. They’ve been through hard stuff and they don’t want the Kool-Aid. They want the raw, the real, the impossible possible.

I practiced my 15-minute presentation in the car as I drove further and further into the woods. I speak and lead retreats about the power of using my profession (writing) as a therapeutic tool, so I figured I had this one in the bag. All I needed to add to my well-developed story was the part about how I discovered that creative self-expression on the page is an excellent way to process life, and how I’ve learned to practice this every day, against the odds. How it sustains me personally, and now financially. Lesson: find out what you love and do it with all your heart, no matter what, and eventually you will succeed, whatever that means to you. I’m living proof. Easy.

The first panelist to present was a prosecuting attorney. I prepared for a serious talk from a serious person. Instead, he talked about wandering. Living in Hawaii. Surfing. Snow-boarding. Bartending. Being misunderstood. Feeling like a loser. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. And finding his way eventually to a profession that meets his needs. The second panelist was a successful web-developer with prominent clients all over the world. In his presentation, he talked about wandering. Living in New Zealand. Surfing. Skiing. Bartending. Turning down corporate America for mountain living. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. Inventing things. When it was my turn, I found myself telling a very similar story, mostly the wanting-something-different component. Oh, and I bartended too. And wandered. And worried my parents.

We had three rotations of students who listened to our presentations, all with interesting questions, and a modicum of blank stares. These kids were listening. And we on the panel were listening to each other … three times. It’s one thing to wow a crowd with your best one-liners, cutting honesty, and slightly irreverent stories. But looking into the eyes of these kids who’ve travelled miles of hard road, there was zero room for schtick. I pride myself on heart language. Turning heart language into schtick is a depressing trajectory, but truth-be-told, it’s happened to me along the way, likely out of a self-preservation that grows from being constantly on the road, sharing your message. Given this Career Day format, there was no way it was happening here. Quite probably because of this fact, what I saw in myself and my co-panelists (we supposed “experts”) was a fountain of truth.

The first time around, we gave blow-by-blow plays on the journey of our careers. Fascinating details. Twists and turns. Yellow brick road of success with pitfalls you only admit when you’ve found your way to Oz. The second time, we three offered more — personal stuff, odd vignettes that ended up inspiring major life choices right down to a conversation on a plane and a pair of flip-flops. But before the third group of students came into the classroom, one panelist admitted, “I’ve been telling it wrong.” His eyes lit up and he offered to go first. He spoke about inventing things — got deep into what made him want to invent things and why. Which begat a confessional from the other panelist about how he didn’t always love his profession, but how he has learned to live by his principles, moment by moment. And when it was my turn, I got ready to tell my usual story — about wanting to follow my passion with all my might, even if it left me poor and unpopular … but instead, this voice escaped like it was pulling free from very old shackles:

“I wanted to be famous. Really famous. Meryl Streep famous. I was jealous of Julia Roberts. I wanted that career. I was jealous of the literary brat pack from the 80s. I wanted those careers. Desperately. But the voices inside my head were so loud: you’re not good enough, your dreams will never come true, who do you think you are to have those lofty dreams, you’re a show off, you’re self-centered, you’re not talented, you’re an embarrassment to your family, you’re a failure.” My heart pounded and my face heated, but I continued. “I’ve let my inner critic run me. Until very recently. Even though I give speeches and lead writing retreats about how to become aware of that voice and shed it, I’ve still allowed my inner critic to hold court. I don’t want that for you all.” And then privately, a very new thought brought me to my proverbial knees. And I added, “I never realized until this moment … that I’ve allowed her to be much freer than I am. She lives out-of-the-box. I’m the one still somehow in-the-box because she tells me the story, and I dance. I don’t want a story. I want to be rid of stories and just be.”

I looked at those kids and I realized: that’s what they wanted — to be free of their story. Of their pain, their pressure, their past. To free themselves of boxes altogether. And yes, to have permission to wander. And worry their parents.

I ended up staying for lunch. I sat with the students and answered more questions but mostly I listened to them. I commended them for being different and admitting it and wanting to understand themselves, truthfully. I commended them for being honest and outed for exactly where they are in their evolution. “Most of the stories we tell ourselves are myths,” I told them. “If there’s one thing to live by, it’s that. Find your truth, no matter how inconvenient, and live into it. And for what it’s worth, the “experts” are really grown-up high school kids, scared, just like you.”

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An old friend, this poem. Kipling.

I had this poster on my dorm room wall.  It needs no introduction, however, pay attention to the first few lines….IF…..

IF you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If
you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If
you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

 


 

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I’d love to speak in your neck of the woods!

Sooo…some shameless self-promotion:  if your business, school, social group, club, library etc. is looking for a speaker who is all about empowerment…pick me!  Here’s the scoop:   http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/laura-munson

LAURA MUNSON

A writer for over 20 years, Laura Munson is the author of theNew York Times and international best-selling memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Passionate about “finding the intersection of heart and mind and craft on the page,” Munson shares a story that explores marital crisis and imparts a message of empowerment, the importance of living in the present, and the necessity of claiming responsibility for one’s own happiness – no matter what is going on in life.

It all began when Munson penned an essay, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times in 2009. Stunned by the firestorm reaction she received, Munson emerged as the face behind an essay that ignited dinner talk, office chat, and book groups around the globe. A short version of a memoir she had written during a rough time in her marriage, the essay touched people with its powerful honesty. And they wanted more. After having written for two decades, having completed 14 novels, and having endured countless rejections, Munson had a book deal within 48 hours.  Her memoir has been published in nine countries.

Munson’s work has appeared in the New York Times ”Modern Love” column, the New York Times Magazine ”Lives” column, O. MagazineWoman’s DayRedbook, Good Housekeeping, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, The Sun, and Big Sky Journal, as well as on HuffingtonPost.com and through many other media outlets. She has been on two national book tours with appearances on Good Morning America, The Early Show, London’s This Morning, Australia’s Sunrise, various NPR stations, and many other television and radio shows, including Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House radio program.

TOPICS

How to Turn Crisis Into Personal Freedom

How to Get What You Want by Getting Out of Your Own Way

The Power of Story in Times of Crisis

Please call 800.225.4575 or contact The American Program Bureau for more information on this speaker’s speech topics.

REQUEST MORE INFO

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 Laura Munson
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Mother’s Nature.


Two people died on our ski mountain last week in tree wells. One was 16, the other was 29. If you’re not familiar with the definition of a tree well, here’s a visual:

The long and short of it is this: evergreens, especially those with low hanging branches, can prohibit snow from filling in and consolidating at the base of the tree. Skiers and snowboarders can catch an edge, not seeing the hole, and catapult head first into these wells, being swallowed in the snow and then buried by snow from the overhead branches. There is little hope for survival, even if you have been responsible enough to partner up and watch as each of you takes the run. It’s a fast and furious death; like drowning.

Your best hope is to ski without your pole straps so that you can potentially have free hands to dig breathing space around your mouth and nose. And then you’re supposed to gently rock, creating more space. And you’re not supposed to panic or struggle, a lot like being caught in a rip tide. Except you’re stuck. Nothing is flowing but hope that your partner is not down at the lift line wondering where you are and remembering, oh yeah, he/she was supposed to be watching you, and oh yeah, skiing and snowboarding, as fun as they are, are sports that can kill.

I wonder about this, after seventeen years of living in a ski town. I wonder about this as a mother of two kids who live to ski and their friends do too. I wonder about this as someone who loves adventure and risk-taking and the abandon found in that adrenaline high. And I also I wonder about this in the field of fear and then in the field of education and then ultimately in the loveliest field I know: surrender.

This morning at the breakfast table, I asked my children how they felt about these recent deaths which have shaken our community in not just grief, but the fresh Bandaid-ripped sting of “this could happen to you.” For these are the sorts of tragedies which happen in my children’s back yard. Not that they should get used to them—as if it would even be possible. But they need to both know how to process them and to know how to prevent them.

Most everybody skis trees here.

It’s part of the our local vernacular. That kind of heart throbbing, lung burning, stomach-butterflied rush is what keeps many of us living here, whether we’re sliding down the mountain, or hiking up a ridge, or galloping through a field on a horse. We are “getting after it,” as the local saying goes. But as a mother, I needed to check in, even if it made me unpopular. They don’t need to know about city streets for now as much as the power of snow. The snow they’ve known best makes snowmen and snow cones and sledding hills.

So this morning I asked my children what the “it” was in “getting after it.” They both said, “What you love.” I could see the snowflakes dancing in their eyes. Every winter morning they run to the computer to check the ski report. Oh for the love of fresh powder. You’d think they’d been given free lifetime passes to Disneyland on those days.

My question begat a sudden discussion about how much “vertical” each of them had gotten this winter, bemoaning the insult that it was raining in mid-January on a Saturday.

Sticking to my mother guns, I gingerly asked them if they were upset about the recent tree well deaths. They both nodded. “Everyone’s talking about it at school.” Then I asked them if they understood just what happens in a tree well and how to avoid it and what to do if they were ever, God forbid, in that brutal situation.

I assumed they knew it by rote; that with all the ski lessons they’ve had and all the lectures my husband and I have given them, they’d recite it like they did the National Anthem. But it turned out: they kind of knew. But they didn’t really know. They had been seeing snowflakes during the “scary” conversations and warnings, turns out. I was horrified.

My kids ski in the trees every weekend from Thanksgiving to Easter. And here is the crux of what every mother knows well– that daring walk on the tightrope between scaring your children out of their gourd, and empowering them with knowledge. And what every child knows better: the line between being cocky pre-teen/teens, and notably shaken. Upside down suffocation? That hadn’t landed on their snowflaky radar.

I felt a rant coming. I tried to take pause. To no avail. I began with: “There’s an expression: All the avalanche experts are dead.” I paused for them to chew on it. Suddenly they weren’t so keen on chewing on their eggs and toast.

I wanted to full-on lecture them then, out of motherly fear. How was it possible that they hadn’t learned all about the full array of dangers on our ski mountain…maybe I had left something out in the long list of things to teach my children…had I remembered Hospital Corners, and not tree wells??? But I tried not to get dramatic—tried to keep it direct.

In so many words I explained that when you make decisions in the back country based on ego, you get into trouble. And then I wanted to twist the knife a bit in their hearts. Because maybe it’s the hurt that makes the mind listen and remember and maybe two deaths are not enough in the minds of children.

“Being in nature is a privilege and one that should never be taken lightly.” I explained that sometimes we forget that privilege when a machine like a chair lift zooms us up to a place that normally would take all day to ascend, and that for people who hike up the mountain rather than take the lift…for just that one…run…down, there is the grace of gratitude. We need to remember gratitude.

They looked unimpressed. Hiking up? All that work and only one run?

So I started twisting that knife harder and I knew not to but I couldn’t stop. Call it fear. Call it shock value. This was my motherhood talking now. “You need to respect the mountain. It’s not a ride at Six Flags. People who hike up the mountain for that one glide down…they know all about gratitude, but they also know about respect. They leave their egos down in the parking lot, along with their credit cards and the heat button. Their power is in paying attention, and knowing the real power, and that’s Mother Nature. They are as vulnerable as can be, save for their fiberglass skies and their Gortex. And that’s the way they want it. They have checked the avalanche report, the snow conditions. They have their partners and their plan.”

Now my kids looked like they wanted to cry. But I couldn‘t stop. Maybe you know this feeling. It’s called Running Scared.

“But when technology makes it so that you can cram in 15 of those runs in a day, tuning out the ascent with your iPod-bedecked helmet, telling jokes about the skiers below…then I just wonder about that descent and where the ego is.”

I had them with iPod.

“I’m not saying that it’s ego that had those people end up in tree wells. It happens to back country skiers too. I just wonder about intention and humility and lessons learned in a second flat, and then lost to suffocation.”

And then I lost them. Too many big words. It was probably better that way. They went back to breakfast. “So what time are we leaving for the mountain,” one of them asked their father, who had been staying out of this. Probably wisely so. Probably because he could have covered this ground in a four minute speech in the car on the way up the ski hill. Mothers.

The local papers haven’t reported whether or not those snow boarders were riding alone when they fell into those tree wells, and frankly it’s none of my business. I just think that for all the young people who go up to “shred” in the fresh “pow pow” after a few days of “dumpage and puking and pissing” snow…who smoke a few bowls and blare agro head banging hard driving music in their helmets, getting after “it”…or even the blithe skiers and snowboarders who are just in it for the innocent fun it is and the french fry breaks and the chance to play in the snow with friends and family and slide down a hill and gain some speed and take in some views…maybe there can be a moment of pause this January in Montana in our little town. Maybe those deaths can be a reminder that Mother Nature is more powerful than human nature will ever be.

For an expansive education about skiing and snowboarding near tree wells, go to this site which was created by a collaboration of the NW Avalanche Institute, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Crystal Mountain and Dr. Robert Cadman.

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Handy: a rant inspired by the county fair

chainsaw
I am orignially from the city. Chicago. New York. Boston. Seattle. And a few others along the way. But I’ve lived in Montana for 17 years. As much as I love it, there is one issue that I just can’t shake. Language. I’m not talking about the poetic license to write two word sentences and start them with And or But. I’m talking about the slow and steady and acceptable widening black hole that makes up many of my interactions here and maybe yours too. But truly I wonder if the joke’s on me. Here’s my rant. Ready? County fair time always does this to me.

(And yes I know I’m a pompous ass, but hear me out).

There is no such word as “orientated.” I can take the dangling participle from hell, “where’s that at,” the double– sometimes triple negatives, and even the humble attempts at proper grammar, which I’ve heard plenty “of.” After all, this is the land of the handy. The Queen’s English follows function out here in the Great American West, especially when there’s snow to plow, fields to tend, wood to chop. Where you’re not handy, a neighbor is, and they’ll come panting and smiley and full of handiness with their chainsaw or bobcat or carpenter’s belt. You can pay them with beer and that doesn’t require much Queen’s English now, does it?

Food. Shelter. Running water. Heat. We all need it. Back in the city, the water comes from the tap, the heat from vents in the wall, and the shelter…well duh, it’s just there. The important aspect of shelter as I knew it was the color you chose to paint or paper your walls. When those taps and vents and walls betray you, I was taught how to pick up the phone and call a man in a suit who arrives in a truck three hours late and overcharges. I was taught how to play damsel in distress to his…well, grease monkey in shining…well, plumber’s pants. Now, I am the grease monkey. I know where my water comes from and how it is that it enters my kitchen sink. I understand the network of pipes tying me in with the modern world. I know that it is not grease monkey magic. And when you have three cords of wood to chop, it doesn’t really matter where your participle is at. But there’s no such word as “orientated,” okay? That’s a griz claw swiping slowly down my inner chalkboard. It’s oriented. Disoriented.

But I digress. I moved to this state of Montana with very good phone skills. Excellent Yellow Pages navigational abilities. I had and still have, I’m fairly positive (although nothing is sacrosanct on this subject now that I am actively employing the word “awesome,” often) a pretty damn good vocab. A vocabulary indicative of those fancy east coast prep schools that nearly drove Holden Caufield to vagrancy in the tunnels of the New York city public transit system. Who in the Sam Hill is Colden Haufield? Never mind. (I’m just glad to know what an Allen wrench is and that it has nothing to do with Woody, probably our self-admittedly least handy American.) Anyway, I had and potentially still have the kind of vocabulary that is spun out of pruny, old, bifocaled masters in bow ties playing Mr. Chips-gone-bad to my “um…yeah…like…whatever”‘s. One of these such chaps used to pull my pony tail until I cried, “onomatopoeia”!!! In high school, our English papers were returned with an F if we used the passive tense. I’m not even sure what that is anymore, but I remember it was bad. Really bad. Worse than passive aggression. Or passing gas. Or not passing the soccer ball in time. Or asking to pass the salt without a please. Actually that was different– that was simply just not done.

In all this talking the SAT talk, I never learned how to walk the handy woman walk. And why would I? I was taught that biceps are unattractive on a woman. I learned that the color leather belt you are sporting should match your shoes. I learned which fork to use at which juncture of the dining experience. I learned how to make polite but not turbulent conversation. I learned that Hope is not a method of contraception, nor is it a method of admission into Harvard. (Knowing someone on the Board of Trustees, however, is.) I even learned, from my own research mostly, where babies come from. But nobody told me that oil needs changing in a car and, God forbid, that a person, a Full Service gal like me, can do it herself. Perish the thought. These hands were made for shaking and playing a little Beethoven, not oil. Maybe oil paint. Maybe oil wells. Studs on the lacrosse field, yes. But in a tire…in a wall…no. Pre-Montana, the ceiling and basement on my handiness aptitude, was the assemblage of a rather roaring Watteau-worthy (say it fast three times) fire. A fire for form not function. For that, we simply ask hubbie to twist the heat dial thingy on the wall.

The first time I heard the word “ain’t” in real life, not on Hee Haw or The Waltons, or out of the mouth of Opie, was at a county fair. It was my first weekend in Montana so I figured I’d go to the center of the culture. It was enlightening. I learned that bulls don’t just buck — their balls are strung up. I learned that goats stink. Llamas spit. And that Wyoming is to Montana as Wisonsin is to Illinois as New Yorkers are to Bostonians as ugly Americans are to all of France and most of Europe. (And you won’t find that in the verbal section of the SAT’s.) Soon after, I became acquainted with my inner chalkboard. You do that real good, do you? Eeeeeeeeeeeeee. Cold enough fer ya? Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I been there. Irrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I seen that. Owwwwwwwww. This car needs fixed. ???? And as if Gimme your John Hancock wasn’t bad enough, here, it’s a different John I’ve never heard of, but think he had something to do with the railroad: John Henry! Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuh. Alls I want…erp. What can I do you for…uhp. The clincher was the use of the word “anymore. ” A true Flathead Valley native, at least someone who has lived here long enough to wave at every inhabitant of every car at every stop light (a feat for which training can take up to, say, minimum: one year’s all), replaces the phrase “these days,” with the word “anymore,” emphasis on the any. And given the huge amount of change happening all around them– take freaks like me moving in, for instance– they’re always talking about anymore. Anymore, you can’t find a decent-sized trout in the river. Anymore, it doesn’t snow much. Anymore, you have to speak Eyetalian just to ordera cuppa coffee– and it’ll cost ya three dollars! When I heard this use of anymore, once I unjumbled the brain teaser, I got over my inner chalkboard and just outright laughed. It makes no sense. And yet it makes perfect sense: it is the language here.

Language exists for one purpose, I suppose, and that is: communication. These people don’t need to throw around prosciutto, capacola, pancetta. They have goose jerky, smoked trout, elk sausage all their own. What do they want with craft store raffia for decoration– they can pull straw from the bales off their harvested and harrowed fields, and frankly, that stuff is a bit shabby around here– kind of like decorating your condo door with a wreath made out of carpet swatches and linoleum leftovers. Their hamachi sashimi, Prada purses, and Bobby Brown earth tones are Makita, mountain lions, and Flathead river rock. And the piece de resistance, if you’re very very good to Santa, is a big ‘ol backhoe under your self-cut Christmas tree. What in creation is a backhoe? A big machine that moves dirt and other stuff around. When you live in a place where there’s still dirt to be moved around, it comes in very handy. I just can’t imagine life without a backhoe.

So I guess I’ve learned that form can take a flying leap off the top of the Empire State building. I’ve got bucking broncos and Indian Fry bread and rodeo clown humor calling me. But there’s still no such word as “orientated.” There just ain’t.

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