Tag Archives: Haven Writing Retreats

How to Survive Empty Nest (AKA: Mommy Massage Money)

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Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 (one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running special discounts this week!

For those of you who are looking at the last weeks of August with dread, clinging to what last licks of summer magic you can put in your proverbial jar and hoard in your proverbial pantry all winter…and especially for those of you who are facing Empty Nest for the first time, and ESPECIALLY if you are a single mother facing Empty Nest for the first time…this is for you. But it also applies to anyone who is longing for her/his people, in the wane of these sacred summer days:

First, a word on this emotional miasma that you are likely feeling: (followed by some pretty solid advice…so stop what you’re doing. Get comfy. This is a muscular read and there’s a good chance that it will help you. A lot.)

There is so much longing in these dog days of August, especially if you are a mother of a child soon fledging the nest. Longing for things like that one moment on the porch with your college-bound son, before he goes out with his friends, AGAIN…trying to squeeze out some lovely mother moment in which you impart just a bit of wisdom, or ask that one perfect question that will evoke that one poignant answer and you’ll feel like you know your child again, or just that much more.

Maybe you have ways to inspire these moments and maybe it has to do with food. So maybe you find yourself plotting a menu that he can’t resist so that your home will be the chosen roost for his boy squad tonight, not some cabin in the woods, or some boat on a lake, or some media room with air conditioning and very lenient parents… Maybe you should be a more lenient parent? Nah.

Or maybe you are just plain longing for your child. Without all those tall smelly (albeit adorable) boys who quite likely have one thing on their mind: beer. Maybe you just want him. At home. Before he leaves for college, and you’re alone in the house. Alone. Wondering why you didn’t make summer matter more. Why you didn’t insist that he come home, miss the party, sit on the porch with you and play cards and talk all about life and love and loss and hope. Why you didn’t swim in more lakes together or establish a daily something together that when you are older you can both say, lovingly and longingly into each others’ eyes:  “Remember that summer when we used to always ________?”

And not have this as your memory instead: “Remember that summer when we used to always say, Bye. Have fun. Be smart. Be safe.” Or, “Can you mow the lawn before you leave? And weedwack?” Or “Gas money? Sure. I’ve got a twenty in my wallet. Help yourself.” Because why wouldn’t you give him a little gas money here and there. He plays baseball. He’s hard to employ. And the only spare vehicle you have for him to drive is the old gas-guzzling Suburban. You live in the country. He needs a car. Everything he wants to do is far away from home. And it’s expensive to get anywhere in that old beat up truck. And yet…as much as you wish he would stay at home, you’re glad he has places to go and people to see. And yeah…it feels good to give him a little financial relief. It’s summer. He’s a good kid. He works hard at college. You’re proud of him. And gas money is like your Bolognese sauce. Which means you love him just that much more. And no…none of it is bribery. It’s just making life for your child a little luxurious every so often. Because you’re his mother. Damn it. You’re his mother.

Since he’s been little, you’ve made it your job to teach him every lesson you can possibly think of, although you doubt he listened to you. Tick tock! Before he goes to college, you need to know where he is in life! You need to take the pulse of his heart and mind and soul! So you ply him with your Bolognese and it works: He gives you that precious time. For one splendid dinner. And you sit on the porch and see what he knows, where he is in what he knows, where he needs to know more. But then you have to go and blow it because you push just…a…little…too…hard. And he wolfs down the rest of his food and asks for gas money and is off to a cabin in the woods with his buddies and the cooler his very cool god-mother gave him for Christmas.

“Have fun. Be smart. Be safe.”  And you hold back the tears because he hates it when you cry. He feels guilty for leaving you alone and you don’t want him to. So you swallow and shake it off and holler after him, “I love you!” And then you go inside before he can peel out of the driveway, because you want him to think that you have things to do. Only you don’t. Not really. Not unless you call doing the dishes “things to do.”

For those of you who know exactly what I mean…clinging to these last weeks of summer before your child leaves for college…and especially for those of you who are doing this for the first time…take heart. I’m a year ahead of you, and I have some help for you. Wipe those tears. Make a cup of tea. Get cozy…really cozy. This is for you:

1)    First of all, don’t feel ashamed that you are in this amount of pain. Yeah yeah yeah…people will go to great lengths to remind you that you had kids to see them fledge. You don’t want them living in your basement! But we all know that this doesn’t help, any more than it did when your mother told you to finish your dinner because there are starving people in Africa. Now you just feel bad about yourself. Try this instead:

2)    Go into his room when he’s not there and take a photo of his clothes all over the floor, his un-made bed, the zillions of chords and devices that you don’t really understand or want to understand. And then take a look at whatever’s under his bed that you haven’t wanted to see all summer. Take a photo of that too. Ew. Now put those photos on your screensaver. Take a good look at them. Do these images endear themselves to you? Didn’t think so. When you pass by his room after he’s gone, and you fall to your knees weeping because it’s so clean and vacant and innocent with all those baseball trophies, and his Lego trucks still intact and GOD how you miss those days…take a look at those photos. Should do the trick.

3)    You know how when you’re at the grocery store checking out and you can choose to get some cash…and you get $20 in case he asks you for gas money? Because who carries cash these days? But cash is maternal currency and you always keep some around for that moment when he looks up at you like a starving kid in Africa, or at least a Golden Retriever, and says, “Any chance you have any cash for gas? I’m pretty low.” And you get all lit up inside because you can say, “In fact I do. Happy to help the cause.” Like you’re thrilled that he’s leaving you once again. You know that $20. I know you do.

  1. So here are your marching orders from a mommy who knows: Keep taking those twenty-dollar bills at the grocery store checkout line. Only it’s not for your kid’s gas money any more. It’s now officially, starting the week before he leaves…massage money. $20 in a secret compartment in your wallet. Watch it add up. I bet you can afford a massage every other week if you give yourself the money you would have given him to drive away from your front porch. How ‘bout that! Does that get you all lit up inside? I’m sitting here smiling at the thought of it. I’m totally going to try it! Wish I’d thought of it same time last year!

4)    So…you know all those times when you get the guts to ask, “Wanna go out for lunch?” or “Want to go to dinner and a movie?” or “Want to take a hike in the woods?” And he says, “I’m sorry, but I already have plans.” And you feel like such a sucker, loser, chump? Well when he’s gone and you feel that longing for bonding with a loved one…it’s time to text or email or call or choose one of the fifteen thousand ways that you can contact a friend these days. AND ASK THEM if they want to do any of the above. It might not be exactly what you wanted to do, and it might not hold the emotional holy grail of mother/child love that will quell that ache in your heart.  But heck—it’s better than sitting around at your shitty pity party. So there. Reach out to a friend. If they say no, reach out to another one. It’s better than being alone when you feel like that. Being alone shouldn’t be something you bully yourself to do. If you don’t want to be alone…don’t be alone. The world is a peopled place. Find your people. Just maybe not overly happy people at this juncture.

5)    To that end:  On being alone. You’ve heard this by now, I’m sure of it. “I love being alone! I’d DIE to have my house to myself. I could do anything I wanted! Damn! I’m so jealous of you. I can’t WAIT until Empty Nest. My kids are driving me crazy. And you’re not in a relationship right now? Sounds like HEAVEN! I’d crank tunes and have a naked dance party, just me!” Well here’s my advice: Stop talking to those people. They suck.

6)    If you don’t have a dog, you should probably get one. But if you start buying little sweaters for it, and custom-design a doggy bed that matches your couch, you should probably hire a shrink or a life coach or something.

7)    Now’s the time to write that book you’ve always wanted to write. I know a gal in Montana who can help you… Just sayin’. #havenwritingretreats

8)    Or take that trip you’ve always wanted to take. “Alone?” “Yeah. Alone. Just to do it and see that you won’t die. Not that it’s better than traveling with a loving partner or your loving children. These people: “I would do ANYTHING to travel alone. I LOVE traveling alone. You can do whatever you WANT TO DO!” See my above advice.

9)    To that end: Maybe just don’t hang out with people who are happily married and who are entering into Empty Nest. Not until you get used to going to bed alone, waking in the night alone, going downstairs in the morning to make tea and seeing everything exactly as it was the night before when you turned off the light. Even that piece of paper that you passed on the stairs and didn’t pick up. And then passed again on the way back up. And will keep passing until you finally get it through your head that unless you pick it up, it’s just gonna stay there. Maybe wait until you finally pick up the piece of paper before you consider hanging out with happily married Empty Nesters. Or maybe just stay away from them altogether until you can trust yourself socially.

10) Don’t trust yourself socially right now. Weird shit is going to come out of your mouth. And you can’t take it back. And it just adds to the shame. When you do the reach out to a friend thing…be very careful. You’re wide open. Like after birth. And death. This is a kind of dying, and you have to respect the grief process. Only hang out with people who understand that or who can find empathy for it.

11) Make your special Bolognese sauce, or your version of whatever is your culinary super power, and eat it. Alone. On your porch. With a really nice bottle of Cote du Rhone. Because these aren’t box wine days any more. You don’t have to pay for deli meat and bacon and a bread box full of English muffins, and bagels, and sandwich bread, a meat drawer full of big blocks of cheese, and all that protein and gluten he requires. You only really need the top shelf of the fridge these days. And it’s pretty slim. And it’s very clean. For once. Everything is very clean for once. When you do your cooking, be sure to dirty lots of pots and pans and plates. Then leave it all in the sink. When you wake up and go into the kitchen, you’ll remind yourself that there was some good old-fashioned living going on in this house of yours last night. And you have proof! Advanced homework: Leave it in the sink all day so that you can remind yourself, over and over, that Empty Nest is not turning you into a zombie. You still make (and eat) pasta Bolognese!

12) And here’s another thing. Not only are you not a zombie, but you’re actually living. So guess what? (And these are strict orders. I don’t care what’s in your bank account) You hire a HOUSE-KEEPER! At least once a month. And guess what? That one piece of paper on the stairs that you keep forgetting to pick up, or even passive aggressively LEAVE on the stairs to torture yourself with the fact that you are alone, and you’ve got the piece of paper to prove it…that piece of paper that you pass and every time your bleak mind skips to: I’m going to die alone…well guess what? Suddenly, there’s a nice woman with a vacuum cleaner in her hand, and she’s just voila sucking up that piece of paper, proving to you that you DON’T suck, (that’s the vacuum’s job haha)…and that sometimes you have to pay someone to remind you of that. (See: the therapist or life coach that you’ve hired. That massage you’re having on a regular basis in lieu of doling out gas money.) You’re going to start HIRING people. Not like you’re rolling in the dough, but all that actual dough that made all that bread that you don’t have to buy with your kid in college…well you’re going to put it to use to keep your heart from breaking.

13) Finally, and I’m a living testament to this: Your heart isn’t going to break. Not all the way. You’re going to race home from work or from wherever you are in your day, and think, “Crap. What do I have in the fridge and the pantry to make for dinner? He’s so hungry all the time!” And then you’re going to think, “Crap. It’s just me.” And you’re going to take a sigh, and slow your mind down, and slow your accelerator down, and you’re going to think… Huh. I’ve been wanting to see what this Outlander thing is all about. And I do have Netflix, after all. For him to watch whatever those scary boy shows are about the dead people. I wonder what else there is on Netflix. Maybe there’s a cooking show or something. Ah…and there you have it. You find A Chef’s Table. You find Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. And yes, you find Outlander, and you start wondering, after binge-watching the first season…if maybe you too could find a portal into another time, and find another you, and other people to love and who love you back. And you wonder…what’s possible for you in the future. Maybe this is the time of your life that you will one day look back on and think, Boy, did I ever have an easy, calm, self-centered (not in a bad way), life when I was in the throes of Empty Nest. Boy, was it uncomplicated. Boy, was I surprisingly happy. I’d do anything to have that Me-time back. In fact, I’d DIE to have all that sacred space, and everything just the way I want…

But for now, while he’s still home…you’ve got to get to the grocery store to buy more deli meat, and more bread, and get that extra $20 bill, and and and…pass by that piece of paper on the stairs and think, There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that maybe he’ll pick up that piece of paper. And if he does, or even if he doesn’t, I know that he loves this house, and all the memories it holds, and me too. And that he’ll come back. Of course he will. There’s Bolognese here. There’s a lawn and a weedwacker that he is proud to have dominion over. He loves his lawn. Our lawn. Who knows: maybe one day it’ll be his house. And maybe I’ll be living in the basement. Or in the studio over the garage. And he’ll be giving me gas money.

All I know is that I have to let August run its course. Not over-think it. Allow the moments to come naturally. Not force them. Be happy with those little in-between conversations over morning cereal. (That’s another thing you don’t have to buy anymore: cereal.) And believe that September will have its moments of grace along with its moments of despair. Please know…there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yeah, you had kids, and you loved them with everything you had, and now you’re helping them fledge. That doesn’t make it any easier. At least not for you.

The ones who are DYING to be alone and DYING to have their kid out in the world—I suspect that they’ll collapse on their knees from time to time when they pass their child’s empty, clean, innocent room. But remember that when YOU do…just take a look at your screensaver. That room smelled bad. The kid in it did a lot of grumbling and mumbling and wasn’t always such a peach. That door was closed a lot with music thrumping on the other side that had words you couldn’t understand except for the ones you still can’t believe he knows and uses. You thought you imparted too much wisdom for him to listen to those words. Well…maybe you did. Maybe he listened, after all. You’ll find out.

It’s time to let summer go, and welcome September, despair and all. Maybe there’s a naked dance party in it for us! I promise you, as much as I can promise anything without having a crystal ball: There’s a strong likelihood that you’re going to make it. A year will go by and it will be next summer and you’ll be looking at your kid in the same way, and maybe your life too…but you will say to yourself: I lived. I somehow did this life alone, without being a daily parent. I somehow trusted my child to thrive. And he did. And I didn’t die. That’s what I’m putting my money on: That you and your child, apart, will thrive. Not just get by. But THRIVE!

So…go outside. Right now. Walk barefoot in the grass. Drink some lemonade. Watch the dragonflies mate. Feel your place in the natural order of motherhood. And be glad. You did a good job, Mama. You did a good job.

If you want to use writing to navigate your life too…come to a Haven Writing Retreat this September! I have rare spots available on the September 18-22, and 25th-29th retreats! Email me asap to set up a phone call to discuss your creative journey and the Haven experience: laura@lauramunson.com

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Creativity: The great fear-buster

 

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Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 ( one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running specials through 7.31!

I wanted to name a child Haven. But when I met my children in the flesh, it never quite felt like the right fit. I’ve always been attracted to the word Haven: the concept. The practice. To me the idea of Haven comes from a knowing that scary things happen. Big brothers lurk under canopy beds and grab your feet—make shadow hands on the wall until you wet your bed. Grandmother caretakers who are from “good, strong farm stock” fall when your parents are out of town– and you can’t pick them up—and you see what it is to have paramedics in your kitchen for the first time who tell you that everything’s going to be okay.  But you know it’s not. Your best friend’s angel-of-a sister dies of brain cancer when you are six; the last time you see her, she’s bald and you’re afraid of her and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are, and you feel deep dark shame. It doesn’t take long for the average human to understand early on that happiness can turn to heartbreak fast. Things happen. And that’s why your mother cries in church. And why she hugs you extra hard on your way to the bus. And why your father looks so pained by the fact that you’re too heavy to carry up the stairs any more for bedtime. The bigger you get, the scarier life gets. There’s no amount of money or luck or good works that can change that.

But even so, and maybe especially so, we can still create the feeling (never mind illusion) of safety. Of haven.  It can come in a knowing glance from someone you love. Or a familiar smell that radiates from your kitchen most Sundays. Or the feeling of a cool sheet on a hot summer night. I have always slept with at least a sheet over me, even on the most humid mid-western nights. I don’t feel safe without it. It’s silly, I know. But I like the feeling of this kind of safety in small things.

I’ve settled upon that belief along the way: safety best comes in the smallest things. Less to lose. More to believe in. I think that’s why so many little girls love Anne Frank. She found safety during horror, hiding in a small space, writing. Yes, she was hiding. But she was also creating. She could control at least that. When I think of all the places in which my friends and I used to seek refuge…it was always a closet, an eave, a secret trap door that led somewhere—a root cellar, a crawl space. Or a tree house. A play house. Always small, simple places that felt like uncharted territory. We’d put a poster on a wall. Bring in a candle (kids, don’t try this at home). Bring in pillows and blankets. Flashlights and books and magazines. And we’d sit there in uncomfortable positions, practicing refuge. And for most of us, not much had happened yet in the way of scary things.  Still we sought haven.

By the time we become adults, things have happened for sure. No one can escape the “scary” things. No one. So what do we do with that? Hide? Probably not. We have bills to pay, and people who need us to stand there in the kitchen playing short-order-cook with a smile on our face. They look to us for that glimpse that says, everythdahlia_2ing’s going to be okay. And we give it our best shot. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes we make dessert instead and that does the trick. Or not.

It occurred to me about ten years ago, after a tri-fecta personal-life sucker-punch to the girl-balls, that life was scary—really scary…and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So I decided to change my relationship with fear. The first thing that went out the window was the notion that there was such a thing as complete safety in the first place. Ahhhhhh. That was a weight-of-the-world purge that brought with it instant liberation. Because if there was no such thing as safety, then maybe there was no such thing as danger. Not as I had known it. The world was as dangerous as it was safe, so why not play with danger? Why not disarm danger? Why not find safety inside of danger?

Rather than waiting for the big brother monster under my bed, I decided instead to claim my safety wherever I am. I didn’t want to be run by fear. I wanted happiness to reign in my self-created kingdom. Joy. Peace. I wanted to understand what Grace was. So I re-trained my mind. When I started to feel that ol’ bastard Fear…I flipped my thoughts into Creation mode. What can I create right now in this moment? What can I be responsible for that would bring me the feeling of safety even in the line of fire? What can I claim for myself in the way of inner peace? It felt a lot like the little girl I once was, bringing pillows into her closet with a flashlight and a good book. I was going to create my own yes, Haven, in my mind. Breath by breath. Heart beat by heart beat. And it worked.

It’s not that I didn’t look down the dark alleys of life any more. Quite the opposite. It was that I didn’t see them as dark. I saw them as chances to find some sort of haven in the midst of the darkness. And the one place I could control that haven, was in the way I thought. I started working with creating that pillow-bedecked closet in my mind. The more pillows and flashlights and cool sheets and good books…the better. I pictured it.  I took solace in it.  I believed in it.  And sooner than later, I found that I could breathe my way into that feeling of haven whether I was on a really bumpy flight over the mountains, or in a hard conversation with a family member, or in a daunting business meeting. I got good at it. Maybe a little addicted to it, in fact. Because it’s absolutely exhilarating to have the opposite emotional reaction to the things that people say and do to you than what society says is the norm. It’s like watching a storm come in hard and fast over the prairie, and get suddenly blown off in another direction. And quite when you least expected it…you’re in rainbow weather. That’s what I want.  Rainbow weather.

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So I didn’t name a child Haven. I took my new way of looking at the world and created retreats for adults who likely are looking for the same sort of way to process the “scary” bits of life. My way has been through writing and reading and so that is what I’ve created in Haven Writing Retreats. If I could build a series of tree houses and pillow forts and call it Haven Writing Retreats, I would. Instead, at Haven, we go to the tree houses and pillow forts of our minds, digging deeper into our creative self-expression on the page, in a nurturing group setting…that helps us know that yes, life is full of challenges. But we don’t have to look at them as scary. We can use those challenges. We can breathe into the groundlessness of them. We can take five days to practice this together on retreat, away from the stresses of life. And then we can bring Haven home to our daily lives wherever we are…in the safety of our minds and the words we choose to create in that sacred space.

I wish sacred safety for you, wherever you are. Find a pen and some paper. Write a new script. Find your haven. I’d love to help you.

Love,

Laura

Email: laura@lauramunson.com for more info and to arrange a Haven Writing Retreat call…

Haven Writing Retreats 2020 schedule:

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

***OFFERING SPECIAL SEPTEMBER RATES***

(See below)

“I write in a solitude born out of community”

—Terry Tempest Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the refusals would come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW BOOKING:

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

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

Discounted from 7.19-8.1

Sept 18-22 (special rates)

Sept 25-29 (special rates)

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

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The Purge: Reclaiming my office. Reclaiming my solitude.

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Do you have a place in your home where you let all the things you don’t want to deal with stack up? And then ignore it for so long that you can feel its teeth in the back of your neck every time you pass it by? I do. It’s my office. The room at the bottom of the stairs, one step removed from family activity. A place I could steal away to when I most needed it. The place that for years was my refuge, my creative container, filled with trinkets from my travels, artwork that fueled my muse, feathers and heart-shaped rocks, shells, sea glass, petrified wood, tiny beautiful things that I’d arrange like mini cairns marking my creative way. They were glory days. I wrote while my babies napped or went to school or had play dates. And sometimes I wrote late into the night or early in the morning. I made time for myself and my passion, and I was proud to model it for them—to show them that we need to create our sacred space and fill it well. Still, I vowed to keep what I called The Grandmother Chair, empty, just for them, if they needed to join me in my office and share about their day. The door was rarely shut with the Shhh…sleeping sign that I picked up at a hotel somewhere. Over the years they’d tape signs on the door: Mom Rocks, Keep Munson Weird are two of my favorites. I’d even overhear them saying to their friends as they’d pass by, “That’s my mom’s office. She’s a writer.” And I’d smile. It was a peaceable kingdom.

Then life hit hard and my office became a dumping ground for paperwork and forms and bills and things that had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with surviving. Things that scared me like divorce papers, a parenting plan, college applications, financial aid, taxes, a new business to run, a house to keep as the sole adult. And a whole lot more. I’d shove that scary stuff in fast, shut the door, and flee, because I could feel the beast growing in there, holding dominion over that prime real estate in our home. Suddenly, the coin was flipped and I was the one coming into my children’s space, finding a place to sit and share and check in. They were teens. They only sort of wanted me there. I no longer wanted to be alone in my office, creating. When it was time to write, I wanted to be in rooms where life was being lived not just survived. Where my children were coming and going with friends and plans, and where I could sit and at least catch a glimpse of them, steal a moment, a phrase, a “can I fix you a sandwich?” And maybe even, “how are you?” with a real answer that helped me to know that they were okay.

And so my office grew in mouse droppings and dust and photos that didn’t make it into albums any more, bills I couldn’t pay just yet, forms I didn’t understand, and DVD discs, and thumbdrives, and old computers, and chords for things no one makes anymore. As long as that office door was shut, with the permanent Shhhhh…sleeping sign hanging on the door knob…I could pretend that none of it existed, only hearing a low growl when I opened the door to deposit yet another thing I’d “deal with later.” The hard part of life could stall out in my office while I lived the part I loved. And that was getting my last child through high school and off to college, helping my first one get through college and move into her adult life in San Francisco.

Then they all left. And the beast got oddly quiet. Old. Worn out. And maybe I did too. I’d open the door to peer in, see all of the detritus of those hard won years, sigh, and close it. I made it, I’d think. It didn’t take me down. I’m better for it. The kids are thriving. I still have this home and this office, even with its dying beast. I love my work leading writing retreats. I can breathe now.

Finally…finally…last week, I tackled it. It wasn’t because the heavens opened and it all suddenly felt easy. It was because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was coming home and bringing friends and I needed the spare room for my mother. I did NOT want her to have to deal with my beast. And so I opened the door and stared it all down, and collapsed in the middle of the mayhem and just wept. And the beast spoke. It sounded different. More like a sad, old dog that feeds on poetry, the good old days, and anything that has to do with Italy. “You did a good job, woman,” it said to me. “You made it. Mom Rocks, indeed.” Then it perked up a bit. “Let’s crank the Violent Femmes and drink Fernet Branca and git er done!”

And we did. For two days.

It was one hell of a purge. We rolled around in it all. And it was deeeeeeeSGUSTING! Hunta-virus disgusting. I’m allergic to dust, and so I was disgusting too. A snot/sneeze-fest. On top of that, I made myself read every difficult letter I’d kept in a growing folder, so there were gut-shaking tears on top of the rest, and I realized how much misery was in that room. I had to get rid of those letters. And all those stacks of legal papers and tax stuff—that once held so much power. It was time to get rid of anything that brought with it any flash of misery.

I kept the vacuum on the whole time, letting it suck up the dusty scum of what I was releasing in every way. So it was the Violent Femmes droning along with the vacuum cleaner’s breath, on top of dust motes in my nose, and the click click click of not computer keys, but mouse crap being sucked up from under the day bed, and in the closet where my first tries at writing books live. I did not get rid of those. Nor the photo albums. But all the things I’ve been saving for this proverbial “rainy day”—like my son’s report on Ben Franklin. Like old score cards from gin rummy games on the screened porch. Time to go. Time to make this room new.

Here’s what I learned:  Life doesn’t stall out for too long. Just when we are in a place of dread, fearing that we’ll be in that low tide for too long to bear…things start happening. I dreaded this time of my life, even though I knew it would come. The kids would grow up and leave home and good for them. I had children to put them out into the world and to see them thrive. I love my adult children. They are so deep and wise and they teach me and challenge me and even take care of me from time to time. But the question has been: what to do with this next chapter? Maybe keeping it all in my office was a way to be my own Miss Havisham, waiting…waiting…waiting. And for what? All of them to come bounding through the door again with little busy legs and fingers and huckleberry juice on their cheeks? That’s not going to happen. I’m in a time of my life where there are long stints of alone time. Still, there’s writing time. But there’s also living time. And I have to claim it.

So…I decided that next week, after they all leave, and the house drains out to just my dogs and me…that I’m going to re-claim my writing space and deem my solitude delicious. To go into that room again with intention, and to go out with intention too. In this room, I will do nothing else but write, contemplate, read, savor my aloneness, which is required to get into that intuitive place the writer must court and claim. When I go out, I can be a human lint brush, letting things stick to me that are of the rest of life. And life can move and morph that way—in a way that it doesn’t move and morph in my office. In my office I am every single part of me from birth to today and I am mining it all with a third-eye-wide-open aperture that is sacred. In my office I’ll long for this sacred solitude: I am a child getting away with something. I am a child with butterflies in my stomach for all that the day can be. I am a child faking sick to stay home and finish the Black Stallion series. I am a child opening her journal and turning to a new blank page, connecting self to self through words. In my office time is a relative term.

And then when I go out…time as we know it…starts again. It flashes.

There is a poem by Wallace Stevens taped on the back of my office door, on the other side of Mom Rocks and Keep Munson Weird, that I’ve read too many times to count. The last stanza goes like this:

Only this evening, I saw it again

At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked

Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again

And moved again and flashed again. Time flashed again.

Time has flashed again. May it flash for you too…

Love,

Laura

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

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

Now Booking: 

Sept 18-22

Sept 25-29

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

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How to Not Hate Writing an “About Me” Page…

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There is something that has been on my list for a month, and every time it finds its way to the top, it gets somehow pushed back into the mix. Okay…fine. I somehow bury it. Maybe you can relate. It’s the About Me section for my new website, and my Author Bio for my novel coming out next year—basically the same thing: capturing the essence of who I am and what I have done that might be of value to people. And let me tell you: It’s excruciating. I feel like I’m being dragged by my hair into a final exam that will determine whether or not I graduate from college for a class I didn’t take. And it’s like…Abstract Algebra, or Calculus V. Something I did not take in college.

I’ve been in full avoidance of this like I’ve never quite seen in myself. Case in point: I’m writing this instead of writing it. I mean, what do people want to know about me? That I’ve written over twenty books, and a bunch of them are even good? And that I plan to publish those books one day. That I turned down the Oprah Winfrey show not once but twice, and it was one of my dreams in life to go on that show and be in the presence of that goddess. It’s a long story– a story too long for an About Me page. But geez—that’s something I’d want to read about if I followed a writer with that story. Or maybe people want to know that I’ve been highly identified with the word vulnerability and also the word empathy since I was in high school. I used to say, “I don’t want to be friends with you unless you are willing to be vulnerable.” That made me really popular. It was before vulnerability was in. (Thanks, Brene Brown—who definitely has gone on the Oprah show!) What else? That Empty Nest has been hard for me blah blah blah. My kids are doing great. I have a roof over my head, and a lovely one at that, though there is a leak in the garage that I need to get fixed. Riveting content. Are you fascinated yet? And while we’re on the subject, why should you even care about me in the first place? Bleck.

The truth is, I just wasn’t raised to talk about my accolades, and chances are…you weren’t either. I was raised in the seen-but-not-heard, speak-when-spoken-to, don’t-show-off camp. I think that’s why I became a writer. I could put it all down on a page where it would safely live. I still have every single journal I’ve ever written in, probably as some sort of a constant witness of a life well-lived, deeply felt, wonderfully (and yes woefully) wondered. It’s no mistake then, that I’ve made a career out of creating a safe place for people to do the same. I mean, just those three words: Haven Writing Retreat could be the long and short of my About Me. With the words “I seek” before each one.

Just what is it that belongs in an About Me section or a Bio that doesn’t make its author feel like she or he needs to take a shower after writing it, much less putting it out there for people to love or hate, or scrutinize, or slice and dice? Or ignore?

I was sitting on my front porch yesterday with a marketing whiz and a recent alum of one of my Haven programs, here for a Writer-in-Residence. I consider both of them friends and am mesmerized by their elegant minds. So I mentioned my current “plight.” They both groaned. Turns out, I’m not alone. With ricochet-speed, we ping-ponged our identical feelings from Adirondack chair to Adirondack chair. How difficult it is to find the right distillation of words to depict our essential selves. How hard it is to give ourselves permission to “toot our own horn.” For other people? “No problem,” we agreed. “I can see your brilliance so clearly. I know just the words I’d choose for your About Me page or your Bio.” But for ours? Torture.

As I watched their minds think-tanking through those trenches, this is what I gleaned: to write anything that authentically depicts yourself…in these days of glossy brands and what my literary hero Jim Harrison called “the cult of the personality,” you need to use heart language. Your truth. And that in and of itself, can be a tall order. No one majors in Truth in college, though it’s at the base of absolutely everything in the end. But we learn that later on if we learn it at all. Growing up, we all-too-often learn instead how to jump through hoops and grab onto brass rings to get our A+. I feel like I have devoted my life to helping people find their truth by using the power of the written word. I can teach it just fine. So why is it so hard to write these freaking About Me and Bio pages? I can write a memoir or personal essay no problem. Probably because there’s a narrative to unravel. Stories are my comfort zone. Resumes…are not.

Tick tock. Deadline is getting closer and closer and I am still so far away. Maybe I’ll re-arrange my junk drawer after I finish this…

My Attempt at a Solution:

How about we look at it a little differently? How about we make a new sort of list of criteria for what belongs in an About Me or Bio? (And I like writing lists and bullet-points about as much as I do an About Me or Bio, so even this is gonna be difficult. But I’m going to give it a whirl for you and for me. It’s time to have a little conversation with myself.)

  • Let’s start with this idea of giving ourselves permission. Sometimes that works for me. I give myself permission to buy that special and not-cheap bottle of Domaine Tempier rose`, for instance. Not a gimme. But do-able. I give myself permission to adopt two sweet adorable unconditionally-loving English Cream golden retrievers. Done done done. I give myself permission to sip on a glass of Domaine Tempier rose` on my front porch with two goldens at my feet, watching the rain on the lily of the valleys and lilacs. There are certain permission slips that are easier than others. But I give myself permission to write about my accolades and what makes me me? Uhhhh.
  • Let’s look at it like this instead: You don’t have to give yourself permission to share your essence. If you are writing an About Me or a Bio, you already have given yourself permission to be exactly who you are. You can skip that step.
  • Perhaps the next step is to accept who you are already being.
  • As for finding the words…choose what is obvious about you that might not be obvious to other people because they haven’t wandered around in your shoes. They can’t know what you know. All you have to do is let them in. Think of it as an invitation.
  • And it doesn’t have to be everything about you. Just a handful of things that you want people to know that might help them get the hang of how you show up in the world.
  • And why not have it be easy?
  • Easy? F*** me! This is one of the hardest things I can imagine writing. I’d rather write four novels than this stupid About Me and Bio. Deep breath. I don’t mean that it has to be easy easy. I mean that there can be ease to it. Flow. In other words…try not to be anyone on that page that is anyone other than you.
  • In fact, stop trying. Just write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. You have lived a remarkable life. You have. Stop saying that you haven’t, or that someone else’s life is more remarkable so why should I even have an About Me page in the first place. I mean…I’m not Oprah. Or Brene. But I sure would like to have lunch with them. You are who you are. What is something that you can tell me about yourself that might inspire me to feel like I want to have lunch with you!
  • Relax. This isn’t finals week. You don’t have to do any research. You’ve already lived whatever there is to include on these pages. And you probably haven’t won a Pulitzer. Yet. That’s okay. Chances are, neither has anyone else who is reading your About Me page.
  • Just lay it all out there like a deck of cards and pick the ones that are calling to you. Maybe it’s something that wouldn’t have gotten you an A+ but maybe it’s the old moth-eaten sweater that you always go to over the new one you got for your birthday.
  • Pick the ones that feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable in your words, your reader will too. (And that goes for all of your writing. I’m not saying: avoid conflict. I’m saying: go into the heart of conflict. You really like that sweater even though it doesn’t smell so great! But now we’re on a 5 day retreat. Let’s get back to front porch wisdom.)
  • But I’m 52 years old. I’ve done a lot of stuff, and a lot of what I consider to be my great successes were very hard won. Should I include all of it? I feel like I’m being remiss if I leave out any of it! I mean…I did end up going on ‘Good Morning America’ and being interviewed by a former press secretary! My ego kinda wants that one in there. But heck—I don’t know. I’m more proud of those unpublished books. Can I mention them???
  • Think bridges. Ask yourself: What might bridge my life experience to my reader?
  • What is something that you have lived which might help others to know that they’re not alone? (That was the #1 thing that I heard over and over after my memoir came out. “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”)
  • Let yourself shine in the way that only you can. And it doesn’t have to be Fourth of July bedazzling fireworks. It can be a small, abiding flame. My grandmother used to sing me a bedtime song with these words in it: “In this world of darkness we must shine. You in your small corner, and I in mine.” Beauty is in the small things as much as it is in the grandiose.
  • No one has your story. No one. Even if you share the same accolade, no one has quite shown up like you have. Own it.
  • You can list your accolade, but perhaps you want to include a few words along with it that show us something about the experience. (ie: Had the stomach flu on my 1st book’s pub day, in a mid-town Manhattan hotel—a writer’s ego never gets to explode.)
  • But be careful: (and this one is so important, especially for women): You do not have to be self-deprecating to justify your accolades! You worked hard for them. Again, own it. (Yeah you had the stomach flu, but the book landed on the freaking ‘New York Times’ best-seller list!)
  • In the interest of time, I’m going to stop here. But a word for us all from my front porch: Be kind to yourself, please. You are a miraculous creature no matter what you put on those pages. You have done your work and you have done it well. Settle into kindness and care and respect for yourself, and you will find the true words. They’re in you, I promise.

P.S. Can I just use the following as my About Me and Bio

Laura Munson lives in an empty-nested farmhouse in Montana with two recently adopted dogs so it’s suddenly full again and she’s happy about that. And she writes a lot and brings people together to write a lot too. And those people are really happy when they’re here. And she loves her work as a mother (even though it’s not daily anymore), and a teacher (surprise chapter!), and a writer (her life’s love, outside of motherhood). Unless she has to write an About Me or Bio. So there. Please read my stuff. I write it to help us know that we’re not alone. Myself included. Here’s the bridge. Meet me half way. K?

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019!

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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Inside Out and Backwards

 

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For the last few months I have been putting on my clothes…wait for it: not just backwards, but inside out too. Backwards and inside out. Over and over again. What’s that about? Is it the disorientation of Empty Nest? Is it a mourning period after a one month high of solo travel in Morocco? Is it that I’m alone for the first time in my LIFE on a consistent basis?

Whatever it is, I finally decided that I just don’t want to be without dogs. I’ve never not had a dog or two, and after my old girl passed a few years ago, I decided to let the life drain out of this house, one creature at a time. As much as I wanted to jump back into having a dog, I wanted to see who I was without one, in preparation for my last child to leave for college. I wanted to remind myself that I’m never alone as long as there are birds and deer and bugs and frogs at play in the woods around my home. I wanted my intimacy to be with wild creatures, and I wanted to finally learn the bird songs that I’ve loved for 27 years here in Montana. I’ve known the characters in the symphony, just not what sound they make. Well not all of them. Like…I’ve never known what a sparrow sounds like. Or a junco. Or a pine sisken. Just robins and eagles and hawks and anyway…  Inside out and backwards.

So for the last few years, I’ve walked quickly past dogs, past community bulletin boards advertising puppies, past the pound and the Humane Society, past “I have a friend with a great rescue dog she’s trying to find a home for and I know your place would perfect.” No No No. As much as I longed to say yes, I said on repeat, “I cannot fall in love one more time with anything with a beating heart until I figure out how to care for my own.”

I tried to be happy without a creature in my home. Really. I did. Therapy, yoga, journaling, reading, making lovely dinners for myself, and my contemplative practices. But I like to be in a pack. That’s my truth. And so…one night, with total intention and “flow,” much the way I started Haven Writing Retreats, I put on Facebook: “Hey—anyone know of a dog that needs a home in the Flathead Valley?” I got some leads and soon I was on RezQ looking at three legged dogs that answer to the name of Lucky and I was ready to head over the Continental Divide to scoop up a pit bull/white shepherd blend and make their hearts find home in the way I need mine to. I even said to my daughter, “I’m not getting some pure bred dog. The best dogs I’ve had are rescued mutts.”

And lo, ten minutes later, I’m on the phone with a local friend who tips me off to two English Cream Golden Retrievers from Ukraine who have been show dogs for two years, and now they’re here to breed and find a forever home, and they need what’s called a “Guardian.”

“Uh. I was looking for a rescue dog.”

Turns out that they are a part of a very special program which lets them carry on the excellence of their breed, but also lets them be pets. And it’s all done in Montana with an exceptional breeder who finds only the best homes for them, and always has the best interest of the dogs in mind. Nutrition, exercise, deep committed love, all of it.

Huh.

My mind went in circles: I mean, somebody’s got to be at the top of the breed with integrity, we hope, yes? To protect from over-breeding and puppy mills and the cancer and hip dysplasia and on and on that is a result of greed versus integrity. And this breeder has an undying commitment to these creatures…and these dogs need a home and I have the perfect arrangement for them. And I know my way around adopting dogs which are projects, and these most certainly need a very sensitive dog owner who can help them acclimate from the show ring to the woods of Montana and the few litters they are hoped to have in the next few years. And once they’re done breeding, they are spayed and then…they’re mine for good.

Still, I was conflicted.

Until I met them.

Gorgeous and Beluga-whale-white as they are…they don’t know what they look like, or what their pedigree is. They want what we all want, and it was woven into every fiber of their beings:  to love and be loved. Period. And I can give them that. Whether they’re expensive show dogs, or mutts. We’re all the same. I know this well after being raised in a shiny place and having lived in Montana for 27 years, which sometimes isn’t so shiny, depending on how you define that word. We’ll romp in the woods and swim in the lakes and rivers and we’ll be creatures together, in a pack. And I’m sure, that one of these days, we’ll add a rescue mutt to the mix, because that’s the way I fly.

They came home two days ago, these girls. They are scared, and they are grateful, and so willing to learn and love and be loved. Their instincts are being activated and it’s so beautiful to see! A stick? I want to grab it in my mouth and prance around with it and hope that you will throw it for me. And I’ll chase after it and bring it back to you. A pond? I want to plop my belly into its cool water and then I want to swim in it. Maybe not in that order. I don’t know. I’ve never wanted for water like this.

They are coming fully into themselves, and my instincts are too. I’m happy right now. In a way that I haven’t been happy, outside of my work and my month in Morocco, in a long while. The dark cloud has lifted. I have friends to play with and who want to be with me and who want to walk in the woods. It’s a happy little pack, we three.

So forcing yourself to be alone in order to fully love yourself? I don’t think I agree with that philosophy.  Or maybe I’m just too terrified to be by myself. Who knows and who cares. Because in the last two days, I have taken at least a 30 minute walk every two hours. I’ve spoken in calming tones and stopped my work day again and again to sit with these creatures, and as we say in Montana “love on them.” I’ve stared at trees and loving dog eyes instead of a computer screen. I feel better. I’ve re-acquainted myself with my land again. I’ve sat on a lot of stumps in the woods and listened to bird songs and taught two dogs who likely were raised in kennels what it is to learn the wisdom of the woods. And yes, how to sit, fetch, drop…but with sticks and antlers that they pick up, as they nose around in the trees in this new place called Montana, and find themselves.

Inside out and backwards? Well I bet they feel that way too. But we’re putting ourselves back together—together and making ourselves new. And I’m going to call that good. Maybe we’re all, in our own way, a three legged dog that answers to the name of Lucky.

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Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019! 

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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How to Find YOU in Empty Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 6

Haven Spring Blog Series

A note from Laura:

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

Yours,

Laura

Katherine Cox Stevenson - My Secret Writing Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

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

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

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

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 5

Haven Spring Blog Series

Colleen Brennan - December, Hill City, Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Lazorishak - Just Another Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

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

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

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

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 4

Haven Spring Blog Series

Erika Putnam - The Last and Best Chapter

As I creep up one stair after another in my slippers I can feel the gradual rise in temperature from the warmth of last night’s fire. From the kitchen window I see the pasture below is glistening with fresh snow lit by what’s left of the moon. That means my morning routine will change from meditation, to the sound of my shovel scraping rhythmically across the deck. Before I venture out to breath natures chill I stoke the embers in the wood stove and brew a fresh cup of coffee. The routine itself is the companion I have crafted to allow a shift from the life I had to the one I want.

A bit chilled, I settle into the left side of the love seat and pull my coffee cup close. A new flame flickers in the fireplace and casts an eerie light on one half of the face of the Dall sheep mount perched above me. It’s before dawn and the Montana mountains are sleeping in the distance. The tall pines envelop my cabin from all sides and offer me the secluded privacy that gives my thoughts the space they need before I commit them to the page.

I have been writing a book for 8 years, and the ending has eluded me. Before the idea solidifies it evaporates like morning fog. Some things can’t be forced! At long last, a concept has emerged from the shadows of my spirit. The ending has needed the last two seasons of bear grass, huckleberries, and golden birch leaves to infuse what was then with what is now. Living here with nature’s raw edges has roused my desire to let go of a long lost love. My resistance has softened and the last and best chapter has condensed into a solid vision.

I am eager to pick up where I left off and open the Word file titled “Book Edits.” I am surprised to see I haven’t opened this file for almost two years. With a wince, I open chapter 3 and begin to read.

IMG_5314I loved my husband but our home life was making us both miserable.  It was 2010. The economy was assaulting our investments and we were both failing step-parenting.  To cope I buried myself in my computer with my mouth shut. He had withdrawn into guilt, shame and fear. Our battleground was set.  We were not talking. Not talking leads to fanaticizing about things being different, which leads to obsessive thinking about a way out. Which leads to looking deeper for the truth about what I really wanted if I would get really honest with myself. I started writing a lot, looking for answers, waiting for my heart to speak up and speak up loudly.

One night I couldn’t sleep. Despite my insomnia, I was more willing to spend time with my computer than I was lying awake in flannel sheets of sorrow.  It was two AM and I had perched myself on the leopard skin fainting couch and tucked myself into a writing nest with a blanket. My heart was as frayed as the grey sweatshirt I was wearing.

I was writing because I was searching for answers. I was giving myself permission to trust my truth. I was frightened to be completely honest but I had a desire and passion to find clarity. My motives were good. I meant no harm.  My truth in this moment did not exclude my love for my husband or our marriage. What I was writing was not meant to be time stamped forever. My thoughts had been fleeting and irrational. I was writing to discover my intention as a way of self-exploration without confinement.  I wanted to stop my own suffering.

I heard him roll out of bed. The bedroom door opened and my husband walked past me to the kitchen. He didn’t reach to brush my shoulder or kiss my head or even peak at my computer screen. I know he wasn’t thirsty, he was checking on me. He asked “what are you doing?”

I was cheating.  I was cheating on him.  I was writing, and it was about a man of my past. The one that got away, long, long ago.  I looked up, said “writing” and looked back down at my computer. I felt like shit.

My husband wandered back to bed but left the tension in the air.  The words started spilling onto the page.

Painfully, I recall that moment. I absorb the words and look outside to the gently falling snow. At last, the ending of that story makes sense. Moving on has closed the chapter of past suffering. Now, my fireplace has become a friend, my dog a companion, a sheep a reminder of my perseverance and winter the inspiration to finish eight seasons of waiting. I take a deep breath and begin typing the ending.

The story flows out and the sun comes up.  I reach over to my dog, Zen, and rub her soft copper ears and say “Hey beautiful girl, writing time is over, let’s get to work.”  I add a log to the fire and feel the deep understanding that my last chapter is now becoming my first.

Cynthia Urquhart - Those Words

It has always bothered me how my notes, words that I choose, cold and professional, would be the only vessel used to capture the circumstances of tragic incidents.

I reached for the little black notebook in my uniform pocket. For a fleeting moment, I tried to think about how many of them I might have filled, during my many years of policing, but lost the thought as I heard the ambulance pull away. The bright moon gave off enough light for me to write and with pen in hand, I was finally able to record the details of the night’s tragic accident.

I looked at the wreckage again, making sure my notes would be accurate.

Writing is something I do, all police officers do, every shift, in all kinds of circumstances.  My words flow easily, as they do at every incident, but they are harsh, empty, and detached. Businesslike with lists, descriptions and facts. I am used to it…well, I tell myself I am. I start writing: time, date, place. Information that is straightforward, rote and methodical. Head on collision, thrown from vehicle, one dead, two injured.  Disturbing, but manageable.  Names, dates of birth, next of kin make it real.  What I don’t write is this:  Anguish.  Their anguish, or mine.

I hate that words like grief and sorrow and despair are kept locked inside me by policies and procedures. No notations, no references, no freedom to be me, no place for my heartache in my notebook. How I want to release my pain. My sorrow. Words. Inside my head, they form, they flash, they bounce, searching for a way out. Looking for validation. I see them. I feel them. I fight them every day and every night. Until I can’t.

Same time, different day. I opened my eyes, panicked, turning towards the dimly-lit clock on my bedside table. I had been waking up at night for months, my therapist stating this was normal for someone suffering with PTSD. She said my brain was trying to process the years of buried trauma, that I was fighting it and that it would take some time. I often wondered how long “some time” might be, considering I had been in treatment for 2 years. I shifted my eyes to the journal sitting on the bedside table, purchased over 3 weeks ago, never opened, nothing to write. Or so I thought.

I stared ahead into the blackness, feeling a little more awake, but something wasn’t right. I could see the words. They were black, illuminated in white, in my head. Words like urgent and dread, calls, cold and cries. There were so many and they kept coming.

My panic rose and nothing made sense. I need to get up, I thought, and as I did, my eyes caught the journal and pen again. I wondered if I wrote the words down, got them out of my head, then maybe they might go away.

I grabbed the pen, picked up the journal, and opened its cover. I can’t explain what happened next, nor for the next 20 minutes to be exact, but I can say that the pen wouldn’t stop.  The words flowed like water from a tap and revealed the stories from my world. The pain lay on the paper like shattered glass. Pieces of it here and there, big and small, sharp and jagged.

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. My mind was blank. The words were gone.

What just happened?

I sat there for a minute, turned on my reading light, grabbed my glasses, and began reading.

The call came in, I filled with dread

Who would be the next one dead

A child, a man, the dog next door

Cause someone needed to settle a score

There were words of sadness and pain, anguish and hurt.

The dispatcher said the news is bad

A child is screaming, she’s lost her Dad

She’s all alone, just 12 years old

She says his skin is growing cold

Memories I had buried so deep.

I walk to her, I hold her tight

I tell her it will be alright

My tear slips out, then two then three

The grief engulfs the whole of me  

Those words made me see my pain and feel the hurt. Those words, in that instant, changed my life. I had fought against all of it for so long. Words, writing, stories and emotion. I smiled as my tears began to flow, thinking how ironic life could be. Words…the very thing that had closed me up and shut me down were now setting me free… .

 

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

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

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

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

 

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