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A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary

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Say you want to write.  Say you dream of  a cabin in the woods like the one in this photo. With a little creek running through. A vegetable garden. And a writing table. No internet. No phone. A fireplace and a screened porch with a comfy bed and lots of pillows. If you looked at my Montana home, you might think my life is already pretty much like that. And if I put my house on VRBO and wrote: “Writer’s Cabin in Montana,” I would probably get some renters who are taking a break from their lives to write in just this dream I dream.

Real life houses, however, usually hold too many of our responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand our attention. And often, too many people who need us. Bottom line for me right now: my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this life and I wouldn’t wish away one drop of it. To everything there is a season, and in this season of my life I am writing three books on top of preparing my son for college, and his typical baseball rigor. Add to that the full time job of running my Haven Retreats. Enjoying a little summer in Montana on my horse and on the hiking trails would be nice too!  But how to find the time to write?

So rather than complain, or become resentful, or run myself ragged and end up flunking in every pursuit…I’ve developed a plan, and so far, it’s working. No matter what you’d do in a cabin in the woods alone this summer, regardless of what your life’s responsibilities are like…see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule (or maybe on weekends)  in the way of weaving dreams into realities, right where you are.  Some of my method might surprise you.  And what might not:  there’s a lot of writing involved. Writing grounds us, and a personal regime like this begs you to put pen to paper, and heart to words.  A personal writing retreat might just be exactly what you need, whether or not you are a writer.

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Daily: (when possible)
1) Sleep in. And I mean late. Like til 10:00. You’ll likely wake up around 7:00, but challenge yourself to stay in bed for a few more hours in a sort of wakeful trance. Eyes closed. Mindful of your breathing. Letting the thoughts come in, but not land unless they feel natural and part of the pure flow that is your true nature. Breathe into them. It’s okay if you fall asleep. You’ll probably work with those thoughts in your dream state and wake up with a clean, whole, gumption of some sort. Take this gumption and write about it. I swear, this morning meditation is where all the good ideas are.  (Of course you may have something called a “day job” or children…but at least take a day a week if at all possible, and give this morning meditation a whirl.   Consider it an essential part of your personal retreat regime.)
2) Still in bed…once those ideas come, and don’t force them, take in a deep breath, write the first line in your mind, (but not the second—trust that it will come and you’ll want to be at your writing desk when it does), grab your bathrobe, and go directly to your desk.
3) DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Not for one itty bitty second. Or God forbid, Facebook. Do not poison what must be pure, and what you have just hatched by your morning meditation.
4) Write the first line.
5) Then go make a smoothie. I have a Nutra-bullet, and I love it. I have on hand: frozen organic fruit like mango, blueberries, peaches, pineapples, coconut milk, flax seeds, fresh baby greens, and a banana. The banana makes it. It’s a green drink that tastes like heaven. Keep that one line working in you as you make your smoothie. I timed myself this morning: it took six minutes. No good idea will disappear in six minutes. You absolutely must nourish yourself.
6) With smoothie in hand, (and maybe tea or coffee as well), go back to your desk. Then give yourself two hours. At least. Two hours at your desk, writing. I repeat…do NOT go on the internet. Not for one nano-second. Even to research something for whatever it is you are writing. You do not want to end up buying boots when you are supposed to be working that meditation-hatched gumption into form!
7) Noon-ish. Now take a break. Make lunch. Sit somewhere and let go of the thoughts. Notice the world around you. Sit outside if you can. Watch birds. If your head is busy, start counting the birds you see to keep the thoughts from taking over. I’ve counted a lot of birds. Amazing what you notice when you break life down to winged things.
8) Now take a walk. This is the best way to let everything you have experienced today work through you. Something always happens when I take a walk. Allow something to happen. Maybe you come up with a new idea. Maybe you decide that what you wrote this morning is really just a warm up for something else that is more white hot inside you.
9) On your walk, if you really get cooking, try this: Interview yourself, as if you are on a national morning show like the Today Show. Ask yourself driving questions about the thing you wrote this morning. Things like: “What is your piece about?” “What’s at stake for your characters?” “What made you want to write it?” “What’s in it for the reader?” “What’s in it for you?”  Answer your questions using honed responses like you’d hear on TV. These are your talking points. Once you get them, go home as fast as you can and write them down. Or, in anticipation of this, bring along a notebook or a pad of paper. I don’t like to do that because it puts pressure on what could just be a perfectly good walk that doesn’t need to get all white hot. More of a processing walk. But mine usually run white hot. (Dirty secret: I have been interviewing myself for the Today Show since I was a little girl. That means I’ve been interviewed by Jane Pauley hundreds of times!)
10) Now return to what you wrote and read through it keeping those talking points in mind. They will be your guide in the progression of this piece, wherever it may go.
11) Or maybe you nailed it in two hours this morning and it’s ready to put on your blog, or pitch to a magazine or newspaper. But if you’re like 99.9% of the rest of us writers, you likely have more work to do. And that’s good news. Because you can control the work and just about nothing else about the writing life. With the exception of the last 10 ablutions.
NOW…plug in, do your laundry, pay your bills, go to the grocery store…
Bonus ablutions:
12) If you want to write more and you have the time, go for it! But set yourself up for completion by starting small with those two pure hours.
13) Print out what you wrote at the end of the day, draw a bath, and read it out loud to yourself with a good pen. Mark it up.
14) Start the next day the same way, only now you can meditate on the piece you started and take it further.
15) Begin by plugging in your edits from the night before and you…are…IN!
16) Have fun! In the words of Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

17) Rinse repeat…

Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness. And creating a “room of your own” right where you live is entirely possible.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #4: Finding your Voice

As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

 Please enjoy these essays by Haven Alums as the ‘Finding Your Voice’ series continues… and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #7: The Healing Power of Finding my Voice by Laura Probert

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“I don’t want to be married anymore,” I said. Only I wasn’t sure the words had come out, out loud. The look on his face confirmed. I’d just found the voice I’d suffocated for years. I liked her and she scared me a little. Everything was about to change.

Journaling my stories of pain, desires for freedom and ideas about healing core wounds that probably started this mess was therapeutic. Sharing those stories with a small blog audience; powerful. Having the courage to write them for online sites; crazy and magnificent. My voice, once expressed was a thing to behold and one of the biggest teachers of my life.

“Are you sure?” he said. And I was. But having to speak my clarity out loud to him created a challenge I hadn’t expected. Speaking the words, my truth, my revelations, out loud to the world made them real. And today it was about as real as any of my prior days on the earth had been. “Yes, I’m sure,” I squeaked, the sound of the words not as sure as when I had written them in my journal.

We sat on the patio with the sliding door closed and I looked over my shoulder frequently to see if the kids were paying attention. Finding the courage to say the words was excruciating enough without having to wonder if the kids would understand. I could tell when we were done, spent from the emotion and energy it took to convince the other they were wrong, that telling the kids would be easier than this.

I found my journal that night and flipped to the pieces I needed to remind myself of. I read the familiar hand writing and listened to the voice of the woman on those pages who was so very sad. I called my best friend, the one who’d known us as long as there’d been an us. “You’ve never been truly happy,” she dutifully reminded me. “This has been going on for a really long time,” she continued. As I listened my heart softened slightly.

This time I was clear. I’d sorted out all the fear and doubts, daily, 750 words a day. I wrote until my hand cramped and clicked until my elbows complained. Until one of the keys on my keyboard threatened a revolt. I’d satisfied the ache in my gut and convinced myself staying would hurt the kids more.

Five mediation sessions later we were legally separated. Our life in thirty pages of tiny black and white. “It was a pleasure working with you both. This was one of the easiest situations I’ve mediated. Good luck to you,” Steve said as we walked to the elevator together.

The day I wrote and shared my first blog about being separated my voice quivered on the page. What if? What will happen when? Are you sure? They might think… My head was full and I re-read my post a hundred times to make sure it was love motivating me. When I was sure, I hit go. And in a millisecond the expression of my life in words, the voice I’d spent decades learning how to find and speak, she was alive and ready to share.

That was the healing. And everything was about to change again.

- Laura Probert

 

Essay #8: The Day I Heard Me by Noha Al-Kadhi

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I do not sleep at night for more reasons than one.

Some reasons are more prominent than others but they all share one common thread …I quiet them.

I quiet my thoughts and summon them to sleep all day, and I quiet them from coming to life at night.

I have finally come to peace with my sleepless nights and found comfort in discovering what my thoughts need to say as I have given them the permission to breathe.

My words were trying to birth their way into the world and they have found the freedom and their welcoming passage, and this is why;

As I lay on the polished hardwood yoga studio floor on top my perfectly folded blanket I ease my back into the bolster and crisscross my legs into a knot.

I am aware of the large glass windows that overlook the endless forest of trees that wrap around the tiny lake within the vast landscape of Montana which swaddle the grounds surrounding it to create a haven for migrating geese on a rainy October evening.

I stare at the ceiling covered in a soft floating pillow pinched into dimples gazing back at me like an airy cloud breaking into a grin.

With my arms spread wide open as though I am about to embrace a loved one, I slowly close my eyes and fall comfortably still into the soothing calm of what is pure silence.

And in that peaceful moment of stillness which could have been a second, an hour or even days, I found the words to the first chapter of my book.

The words found their way out of my congested head that October evening in the yoga studio because it was their safe haven.

I lay open and vulnerable, shed of all societal and cultural restraints, liberated from judgment and critique. I lay in a circle of love, engulfed within open and kind arms and compassionate hearts who have embraced me and given me safety to be.

My voice ascended from a deep silenced place of judgement, expectations, obligations, tradition, culture, and religion. It broke out of a dark space that held it in for too long, and it now basks in the sunlight of truth…My truth… my story… my journey.

Finding my voice is a liberation to generations of conditioning, and those who walked this path before me, and it is the emancipation for all who are destined follow.

My voice is a truth that has yet to be entirely heard and a freedom I have yet to fully experience.

From the Haven in Montana I have nothing but deep gratitude and indebtedness to ten beautiful souls I have had the privilege and honor to have met and known, shared and wept, grown and learned from. It is with this voice I thank you and acknowledge your kind hearts, beautiful minds, and unique voices that could hear mine way before I could.

- Noha Al-Kadhi

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Series Blog Series #3: Finding your Voice

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I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven Writing Retreats!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place? The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #5: The Voice Between the Words by Erika Putnam

Before my eyes opened this morning I felt a surge of panic. I reached under the pillow and snatched out my iPad. Did he respond to my message? I was having second thoughts about the email I sent last night. It was a sincere and unedited reply to his question, “How do you see yourself having the strength to make this change”? Without much thought, I pressed the send key. Then, I sat with remorse thinking, “oh no!” when he reads that he will think I’m crazy.

Our email exchanges began after a brief meeting. We discovered we were both writers and started sharing ideas about creative expression. His writing rhythm was immediately apparent. His morning emails are full of deep thoughts, descriptive experience and considerate questions. His evening communication is flirtatious and spunky. After hours he addresses me as “doll”, and his remarks have intended to provoke exploration or penetrate subject matter that requires visibility from another level. My morning writing pattern is inquisitive and introspective. By night my writing is random and disjointed. That explains the unpolished and over exposed email I sent the night before. Did I cross the line with my bold musings or create an opening for each of us and our respective lives?

There it is. I open the email and drink his words like morning coffee. He writes, “Did you really write this?” I smile. I hear his voice between the words. He continues on with an eloquent description of reasons to change and peppers it with personal insight and ends stating, “Many of us can imagine the perfect new way of being, but we lack the strength and fortitude to see it through”.

I begin to hear the voice in my mind that is formulating a response to what his writing has touched in me. I let our distance give me permission to be transparent. The voice that writes to him is different than the voice of my external life. I only hear this voice when I have my hands on the keyboard. It is similar, yet different than the voice that writes with purple pen in my journal and draws boxes around the good stuff and stars the margins. This voice is softer than the voice that writes medical narratives. It feels similar to the voice that makes wishes in birthday cards. The voice that wants to reach him has a distinct filter, several channels, and layers of content. It can more precisely describe a thought, image or feeling.

My response teases back, “Did you really write this”? Then, more words creep onto the page, cautious at first. I start with writing about having strength to change and allow myself to feel strong. The sentences begin to express a feeling tone. My inner voice feels stronger, louder, and the pace of my writing shifts. It takes the tempo of passion for a few sentences and then becomes slow and steady. Almost unconsciously, I write words that don’t feel like mine. It is, as if, the spirit of me has taken over. I resign the keys to the voice inside of me that allows connection between my heart and the subject on the page.

I re-read my letter and hear this familiar and separate voice. I see it has taken its seat again in my reply. I am compelled to toss it but instead, I see it through. It has proven to have the capacity to communicate things that don’t surface face to face. I consciously press SEND. He didn’t mention crazy.

- Erika Putnam

 

Essay #6: Denying and Declaring Voice by Brenda Wilkins

Renowned author William Kittredge invited me to review my assignment from his creative writing class at The University of Montana. I fought my father like hell to take this class. He sees no point and he pays my tuition. He wants me in economics and accounting.

‘This is not the short story I assigned, this is the beginning of a novel … a memoir, yes?’ Kittredge asks tapping my paper on his desk when I appear in his tsunami-paper-piled office. Books tip on shelves, and edges of anything, including the chair he clears for me to sit.

‘Yes,’ anticipating admonition.

‘It’s good. You have natural talent. I’d like to help you.’ He’s grizzly bear intimidating, but there is a warm glimmer in his eyes. I stare – in shock at the complement, the offer. This is the best day of my life.

‘I don’t offer that often.’ He says raising his bushy eyebrows under his bushy head of hair. Waiting for me to reply, to understand the extraordinary offer.

‘Thank you, thank you.’ I mumble breathless.  He nods with a slight grin handing me back my writing with ‘SEE ME’ scrawled across the top in red editor’s pencil. I am dizzy and out of body walking across the sunlit campus on this spring day in 1982. Tears well and spill in release. I walk directly to the registrar’s office and I withdraw from Kittredge’s class. I have not seen him since.

I still write.  Just like I have since I was nine and my mum gave me a pink journal with a sweet golden key, and since my mum insisted my father allow me to take Kittredge’s class. I have written through the trauma of my life with my mentally ill husband in thousands of journal pages, and into a memoir that sits complete on my computer.

In 2013 I sit in a therapist’s office in Arizona. I travelled here for intensive trauma therapy.  I am here because I am a warrior in need of a warrior therapist.  I grind through exhausting hours, weeks, months of therapy in the final – I hope – step to heal the PTSD I was diagnosed with shortly after my husband’s first psychiatric hospitalization. In therapy, I find a new freedom to honor all that I am. Including a writer.

I return to my memoir, realizing I must start over. While this memoir has been reviewed, and workshopped with other writers and well known authors I realize it is not my – capital M. Y. – voice. It is the powerful voice of ‘the story’, but it is not my story, my voice. My voice is the voice of a woman telling her own story, not her husband’s. My voice is the voice of woman who acknowledges her frailty and her fortitude. My voice owns her point of view. My voice is from one who knows she is a writer.

At Haven in Montana, I arrive committed to starting my memoir anew. Fellow writers affirm my voice -  not just my story. In the cocoon of beauty, love, guidance and inspiration that is Haven, my memoir unfolds fresh and new in my mind.  I recognize myself in my pages.In passing I share my Kittredge encounter with Laura. She looks as stunned in front of me, as I was in Kittredge’s office as a freshman co-ed. She encourages a promised ‘to do’ from me once I leave Haven.

‘Dear Mr. Kittredge,’ my promise begins. ‘Twenty five years ago you set me on a path to find my voice. It’s time I said thank you….’

- Brenda Wilkins

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with a waiting list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #2: Finding your Voice

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The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

Essay #3: VOICE LESSONS by Donna Naquin

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Go ahead. Say it! So I did. Somebody had to stand up to this terrorist. No one else seemed capable. Growing up, I lived with an unpredictable bear. Anytime the bear entered a room, I automatically assessed his “temperature.” On this particular spring day, he was hot. I felt my heart quake. At 6 feet tall, the bear, his angry eyes flaring, towered above the teenage me. Umpteen attacks prepared me for the onslaught to follow. Knowing that poking the bear would insight rage, something in me, an integral voice, encouraged me in this “Standing Rock” hour. Ferocious, frantic, and enraged, the bear scoured his cave for his missing piece/peace. Frustrated, he drew me into his eyeshot. Feeling the tension build, courage rose within me, an undeniable fearlessness. I spoke what needed to be said. The bear lunged with grisly force. Blackened eyes, bruised face, streaming tears, frightened and gutsy all at the same time…it was a David and Goliath moment. Windows opened, exposed to the world, I wondered if anyone heard me. I appreciated their frozen fears. They had mastered the art of sheltering in place: to remain out of sight and silent, to comply, to overlook the bear in the room. Speaking was a critical decision, a high-priced “gift” to myself that has served me for a lifetime.  In those marked moments barely uttering, I sang my strength, courage, and truth.

Now, hearing the voice whisper, shout and advise, I befriend it, creating a partnership. Nevertheless, sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t. Isn’t that the way with collaborations? I have become a miner, digging into internal claims and counterclaims. In the old days, miners took a bird with them into a mine… why is that? Is it because birds are sensitive to toxic substances and can signal a disaster? Prospecting has taken me to the top of “Pamper Poles” (one may need a diaper leaping from a 30 foot telephone pole to catch a trapeze… no net but tethered); to summiting a “Fourteener” in the Rockies; to sacred share circles in Bali; to incredible writing workshops in Colorado and Montana; to remarrying after 13 years of single hood post-divorce; and to intimate, authentic connections via pods of likeminded spirits. I carry that bird by my side. My growing edge is to honor and succumb to the whisper to write. Nailing my voice to paper stands my hair on edge and wrestles me to the mat. I get pinned by doubts, insecurities, and questions. With the same quaking heart and tenacity that allowed me to encounter the bear, I practice writing and I am able to confront the skeptic in me. Encouraged by a loving flock chirping, “You can tell a story,” I am inching out on that skinny branch. Creeping closer to the edge, I am confident I know how to fly.

-Donna Naquin

 

Essay #4: FINDING MY VOICE by Julie Steele

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The alarm sounded at 5:44 a.m. Some mornings it woke me, and on others I was waiting for it. I lifted myself from the daybed with Pottery Barn Kids sheets. I lit a candle, slipped the chunky oatmeal sweater over my shivering form. I sat down at the desk that had been my tenth birthday present in the office a few feet from the master bedroom—where I used to sleep. As my second-grader and soon-to-be-ex-husband slept soundly in their bedrooms, I plugged in the iPod and opened my laptop.

A friend had challenged me to write a page a day—an easy task to squeeze into a calendar already packed with full-time employment and motherhood.  I didn’t know I had anything worth reading until I began publishing essays on my blog. Friends read the posts, commented in the affirmative, and asked for more.

This scene repeated itself for months. In the glow of the laptop screen, I dared myself to try fiction. There, I met characters who had not existed before I created them. Each morning, I breathed deeply, and looked at my characters’ lives like a prism, wrote about them from every angle.  A story emerged.

I shared snippets of these scenes with trusted friends. “Is this any good? Could you care about these people? Could you imagine reading an entire book?” Their answers were fuel on those cold mornings. One friend commented, “I’m walking around with her in my head and she isn’t even my character!” Another said, “I’m worried about your character. I don’t like that those men came to her door.”

My beloved character, Astrid, was my muse. With her in my head and heart, I found my voice. She told me what she was going to do next, what she was going to need, and what was going to make her stumble. I was the dutiful scribe that put her actions and conversations on paper. And as I did it, it occurred to me that if Astrid could face the frightening unknown, so could I. That indeed, by WRITING Astrid into existence, I already was doing it.

Astrid went to Montana before I did—in a 30 page e-mail attachment to Laura Munson for her advance review before my attendance at the Haven retreat. Astrid was with me as Laura walked me through her edits and encouragement. Astrid’s story sat open on my lap as I wept on the daybed in a sunlit room at the Walking Light Ranch lodge. Laura affirmed I could do this. She echoed what I knew: I was already doing it. Laura’s pointers about structure and how to refine the writing guide me every day—almost two years after the retreat.

The tears helped me process my relief and joy. After so many years of thinking about writing and talking about writing, I was finally writing. A stronger, clearer version of myself had emerged. I knew I could never go back. Writing will forever be a part of my life and how I navigate the world.

- Julie Steele

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Finding Your Voice: The 2017 Haven Winter Blog Series

 

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  Were we told from a very young age that we should be seen but not heard, or that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, or act like a show off?  Or that we should only speak when we were spoken to?  When we expressed ourselves in a way that didn’t fit the mold, were we punished?  Were our mouths washed out with soap…maybe even just for saying the word “no?” or “why?” Maybe we endured verbal or physical abuse over our words from the very beginning and so we learned to keep them inside of us and maybe they have never felt safe in the world ever since.  Maybe we’ve learned how “to be a parrot just to cite a silly rule,” in the words of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Maybe our words were considered inconvenient for the people around us, or even dangerous, and they deemed us their enemy, making it their full focus to destroy our words and the integrity around them.  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Writing Retreat alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

p.s.  As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

Haven Writing Retreats 2017 Schedule

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreatgo to the Contact Us button here.

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New Year’s Hope: Winged Victory

So Now What?

So now what?

Not very long ago, I was told that I would lose my life as I was used to living it.  “Fasten your seatbelt,” someone said—someone who’d recently been through a divorce, lost her house, her children half the time, her dignity.  Her face had the map of near-catastrophe to show for it.  As I looked down the unconscionable barrel of divorce, another recent divorcee said, “Out of the two of you, I put my money on the pony that is you.”  I looked at her dumbfounded.  I had never been the bread winner.  I was the hearth keeper and full-time mother.  That was the agreement from the beginning and for twenty years, and I had put all of my security and dreams into the life we had created, the house, the land, the marriage, the co-parenting.  So, I was fetal with fear, trying to figure out how to get out of bed and have the courage for tea, never mind total reinvention worthy of a good bet.

According to statistics, my parting husband, the mediator, and most everyone I knew, I was going to have to down-size.  The house was in foreclosure, I didn’t have health insurance, savings, a job, or any income whatsoever.  How was this possible for a smart, savvy, well-educated, well-raised, feminist mother?  That’s what I asked myself on a rolling tape that tsunami-d over me until I was barely holding the weeds at the bottom of the ocean of fear, and worst of all, shame.

Another divorcee said, “I promise you…in one year’s time…your life will be better than you could ever imagine it.  I promise.”  I hate when people act like they have a crystal ball.  But I held on to that promise, because I wasn’t sure what else to hold on to except the fact that my kids were thriving and my motherhood was too.  That’s all that mattered to me.  Getting out of bed, facing the day, getting through it with some level of grace, and being there to be the mother that I had always been, even when they weren’t with me, even when half of their lives was totally outside of my control.

In those impossible moments, their bedrooms empty, no homemade dinners to serve, no sleepy morning breakfast heart-to-hearts, no lunches to make and wrap with little loving notes…I surrendered myself to the foundation I had given them and the fact that they’d eaten enough organic food to counter-balance whatever they now were being served—they could survive on fruit cups and Jello and supermarket rotisserie chicken, and whatever else was now their reality…couldn’t they?  In those grueling dark nights of the soul, I took heart.  One year from now.  Better.  How was this possible?

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What wings?

What could make life better?  I was told I had to start looking at condos in town.  I would lose the land that held my little family and all our sledding parties, birthday parties, Christmas caroling and luminaria, a million walks with six dogs, raptors riding thermals over our heads as we picked splinters and told jokes, played cards by candlelight, coyotes echoing it all back to us in the night.  A condo in Montana?  I couldn’t think of anything more counter-intuitive for the life I had set up, curated, procured, and which gave me infusions every day, as a once wife, always mother, and woman who needs her muse to run naked in the woods.

I have always been stubborn and when I lack the practical common sense behind my convictions, there is a question that I ask and it has guided me well since I was a little girl:  What can I create?

So sitting there in my house one day, crying in fear and desperation, I asked myself:  What can I create?  How can I keep my house, my land, my children’s lives from unravelling any more than they already have?  This was never something I imagined for them, or for any of us.  How can I make this work?  What do I know how to do? 

At that point I’d published a New York Times and international bestseller, and as always was working away on more book projects, but even so, the writing process takes time, and the publishing world is complex.  The long and short of it was that I was in deep financial trouble with no immediate practical way out that I could see.  I’ll spare you the gory details.  And myself too.  Here’s where the hope lives and why I’m sharing this with you:  On that day, I put my fear and shame to the side and opened my mind to the world of possibility.  If my friend said she’d put her money on the pony that she said was me, and my other friend promised that my life would be markedly better in a year…what could I see for myself?  What did I know how to do that could be fairly and significantly monetized?  But not find me selling out my dreams, my writing, my total dedication to my true purpose.  My sole true purpose was mothering and writing, wasn’t it?  What else was congruent with who I am?

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Open your heart, mind, arms…and jump!  Trust in your wings!

Well…I knew how to write.  I knew how to sit myself down and write no matter what was going on in my life, and always had.  It had gotten me through hard times and it had resulted in published work that landed in people’s hearts.  I could speak about perseverance and dealing with rejection and the practical application of philosophies I’d learned along the way in the realm of emotional freedom and empowerment.  I could be transparent, vulnerable, heart-in-the-hand honest and loving.  I was natural at leadership and well-seasoned in the dynamics of intimate groups and how to keep them safe and healthy.  I could create and hold the space for people to find their way to these life-lines which had been my guide for years.  And I could come up with very relatable and inspiring exercises to help people learn what I’d learned– to help people give themselves permission to find their unique voice and express it, using the power of the written word.  And as if in Shakespearean choir…a few other friends with crystal balls had whispered Writing Retreat in my ear for months.  I hadn’t really listened until that moment when I knew I could not live by fear any longer if I was ever going to get to the other side.

Without a whole lot more rumination, (I’ve found that fearlessness works best that way), I put it on Facebook:  Anyone want to go on a writing retreat in Montana with me?  In two hours, twenty-four people signed up, and Haven Writing Retreats was born.  Five years and four hundred people later, if there was a race to be betted on, and a winner’s circle and wreath of roses around my neck…and a lucky person who gambled on the longshot, I can say with humble-pride that maybe some people deserve their crystal balls.  I can say that I am grateful for their confidence when I didn’t have it for myself, never mind my future.  And I can say that it is absolutely possible that you can take exactly who you are and turn it into a business, a career, and even financial stability.

Winged Victory!

Winged Victory!

Whether you’re a single mother going through a divorce, or recently fired from your job, or in re-invention without a view into your future at all…ask yourself this powerful question:  What can I create?  It may be right under your nose.  And it may be some of the most important work of your life.

And even if you’re not, even if you have all the security in the world in the people, places, and abundance of your life…never take it for granted.  Don’t live in fear of the rug being ripped out from underneath you.  But do know what your passions are and live them with all your might.  I’m glad then, that my passions were in a row when the rug got ripped out from under me, even if my ducks weren’t.  Passions are mine-able.  Anyone can be an alchemist, if they have something powerful to work with.  And the most powerful matter I know…is the truth of who you are, the special way you have of showing up in the world, where you find the ease of true power and purpose, and give yourself permission to live it, use it, be it.

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

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Happy 2017 from my family to you!

So as we enter 2017, to all of us who are toiling to see brightness in our future, or a future at all…take heart.  If I could have seen that day in my world of hurt, what this Holiday season looked like, I wouldn’t have been able to believe my eyes.  I would have seen a mother and her children in Paris, eating macarons in a beautiful boutique hotel, old and new friends feasting over long dinners of delectable food, laughter and love, toasting and fond reminiscing.  Smiles that beamed as bright as the Eiffel Tower at midnight, and as deeply and wisely as the Mona Lisa’s, and as mystically as the Gregorian chants in a candle-lit Notre Dame.  I would have seen a mother and her young adult children– a trio so powerfully woven as they walked the medieval streets of Bruges, Belgium holding hot chocolate and Gluhwein, basking in the Dutch countryside, caves and chateaux where earls and knights once lived, writing wishes for each other on slips of paper for 2017.  And I would have seen them in a holy pause for a week in Amsterdam in a 17th century little house around the corner from the Westerkerk that kept Anne Frank’s hope alive, chiming every fifteen minutes as if to remind us that we are here, and we are together and we are not just thriving.  We are happy.

P.S.  And I kept our house…and am deeply into three books, hopefully coming to your bookshelf sooner than later…

A Slice of Haven Writing Retreats: 

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat 2017 (ranked in the top 3 writing retreats in the US!)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come…just a seeker…looking for your VOICE!

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Haven Health Series #6

These next two recipes were designed to refresh and root your creativity, leaving you invigorated and connected.

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We are fully booked  for our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar and now booking for 2017!

Next Haven: February 22-26

To schedule a phone call to learn more, go to the Contact Us button here.

Self-care.  That word scares me.  Maybe it scares you too.  It sounds hard.  It doesn’t have to be.  I invite us to start with some simple things.  Like a walk in the woods.  Like homemade bone soup that’s been simmering on the stove for twelve hours.  Like Epsom salt baths with eucalyptus and a Mexican cocoa candle.  Like essential oils of clary sage, frankincense, and wild orange by your bed.  Like Arnica salve, infused from the forest floor.  Like early mornings in bed with your journal.  And some very excellent beverages along the way that are as healing as they are delicious:  like ginger tea, like guava kombucha, like rooibos muddled with mint over ice.

These custom drinks are designed by master mixologist, Meagan Schmoll of Whitefish, Montana, to help your state of being in the way that you so desire.  And they are alcohol free.  

Enjoy!  yrs.  Laura

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Recipe #1 - INVIGORATE

“Rooted Like Trees”

2 oz Green *Strong Tea*

1 oz Fresh Apple Juice

0.75 oz Fresh Pear Juice

0.50 oz Celery Stalk Juice

0.50 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

0.50 oz Maple Syrup Grade B

1/2 Capful of Apple Cider Vinegar

*Strong Tea*

3 tea bags or 9 grams of Green Tea 

8 oz Boiling water

Let steep for 20 Minutes

Remove Tea and let cool

RootedLikeTrees_001   Add ingredients into a pint glass.

   Add ice.

   Place shaker tin on top of pint glass giving it a firm tap.

   Turn it over so the tin is in your bottom hand and the pint glass is in      your top hand.

Shake it, shake it real good.

Strain from large tin into a tall ice filled some refer to this particular glass as a collins.

Garnish with an Apple Fan and Celery Stalk with leaves on it.

Enjoy and the invigorating feeling of Rooted Like Trees.

Recipe #2 - REFRESH

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Bhimbetka Jig 

2 oz Peppermint *Strong Tea*

1 oz Fresh Watermelon Juice

0.5 oz Raw Amber Agave

0.25 oz Balsamic – Genesis Traditional Balsamic highly recommended.

6 Blueberrys muddled

Top Ginger Beer – Glacier Ginger Brewing highly recommended

*Strong Tea*

3 tea bags or 9 grams of Peppermint Tea 

8 oz Boiling water

Let steep for 20 Minutes

Remove Tea and let cool.

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Place Blueberries and Agave in pint glass will do, Muddle a few times so the juice of the blue berries mixes with the agave. Add remaining ingredients.

Add ice.

Place shaker tin on top of pint glass giving it a firm tap.

Turn it over so the larger, shaker tin is in your bottom hand and the pint glass is in your top hand.

Shake what your mama gave you.

Strain from the pint glass into an ice filled Copper Mug & top with the Glacier Ginger Beer.

 

Pick a couple of Mint Sprigs, brush or slap them against your hand allowing the aroma to come out.

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Place in the copper mug so you when taking sips your nose gets to be buried in it.

Smell, drink and feel refreshed with the Bhimbetka Jig!

 

Photo credits: Katy Bell

Drink credits:  Meagan Schmoll

Instagram @katybellkaty @lmschmoll #RaskolDrink #embellishpictures

Facebook: Katy Bronwyn Bell, Raskol Drink, Meagan Schmoll

 

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Haven Health Series #4

“Soup is cuisine’s kindest course.”- Virginia Woolf

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We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

October 5-9 (full)

October 19-23 (a few spaces left!!!)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

The days of summer are quickly coming to a close but the windows of winter fruits and vegetables are opening, especially with this gorgeous fruit. Yes, butternut squash is a FRUIT!

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With a sweet and nutty taste similar to pumpkin, butternut squash is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Just what a writer needs to keep the heart and mind healthy and writing, writing, writing.

This recipe comes from Michelle Berry, chef extraordinaire of the Haven Writing Retreats. In each bite, love, comfort and wellness dances on the tongue.

So, take some time out of your day and give yourself something that makes you feel good. In a big bowl!

Your belly will thank you.

 

Recipe #1: CUP O’ COMFORT aka Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

 

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Haven Health Series #3

With this next delicious concoction, unlock the power and brilliance of your beautiful minds.

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We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 21-25 (full)
October 5-9 (full)

October 19-23 (a few spaces left!!!)

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

This may shock you:

Beethoven reportedly drank wine about as often as he wrote music.  Stephen King doesn’t remember writing Cujo.  Even Maya Angelou loved her sherry.

They all were quite likely deeply sensitive people who didn’t know how to handle all that they perceived.  So they went into F**k It mode.  I know F**k It mode well.  People don’t have a lot of tolerance for it.  They think it’s an affront on them.  They think it’s a lack of self-control.  They think that it’s weak.  When in reality, it is an inability to know what to do with all those feelings.  All that empathy.  Booze and drugs stop the empathy.  At least that’s the illusion.

And it’s not just artists.  It’s anyone who feels deeply, as a rule.

So if we’re empowering ourselves as the deeply feeling people that we are, what if we were to look at it like when we are feeling, without blocking that flow, we are strong!  We are complete!  Those feelings can’t take us down!  It’s the fear of them which is the problem.  And an altered mind doesn’t give us all the fortification we need to fight the fear.  Or, as I like to think instead, to love that fear into submission.

So how do we break old behavioral patterns, how do we train ourselves out of old thought patterns which find us in a place of suffering, woe, and even self-harm, self-loathing, or even self-violence?  My way is gentle and luxuriant.  Yes, it has to do with the awareness that we even have these patterns in the first place.  But why not meet ourselves in this place with radical self-care in the most loving and gentle way…and easy?

To read more from this essay, click here.

For two weeks Haven Blog will feature custom drinks that you can make at home.  They are designed by master mixologist, Meagan Schmoll of Whitefish, Montana, to help your state of being in the way that you so desire.  And they are alcohol free.  Enjoy!  yrs.  Laura

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Drink #3: BEAUTIFUL MIND…

*served over ice

2 oz Oolong *Strong Tea*

1.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice

0.25 oz Clover Honey

0.5 oz Genesis’ Traditional Balsamic

3 Strawberries

1 Cinnamon stick

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*Strong Tea*

3 tea bags or 9 grams of Oolong Tea

8 oz Boiling water

Let steep for 20 Minutes

Remove Tea and let cool

 

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Place Strawberries, Cinnamon Stick and Honey in a pint glass. Muddle until Strawberries are squished thoroughly and cinnamon stick crunched well.

 Add remaining ingredients.

Add ice.

 

 

 

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Place shaker tin on top of pint glass giving it a firm tap.

Turn it over so the tin is in your bottom hand and the pint glass is in your top hand.

Give it a good hearty shake.  

 

 

Strain from pint glass into an ice filled rocks glass, some refer to this as a Double Old Fashioned.

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Garnish with half of an orange wheel, cinnamon stick and strawberry in a way the makes you feel creative and take a sip delighting in your Beautiful Mind.

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Photo credits: Katy Bell

Drink credits:  Meagan Schmoll

Instagram @katybellkaty @lmschmoll #RaskolDrink #embellishpictures

 

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Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

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So proud of my Haven Writing Retreats Alums and their powerful essays. Permission to be creative, indeed!

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

This is the last of our Haven Winter Blog Series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  I don’t believe in competition, but I do believe in supporting people for fine work.  This is the post that my Haven team has chosen as the “winner.”  Yet all the Haven alums who have bravely submitted their response to how they give themselves permission to be creative…are “winners.”  Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and may the rest of your winter be full of creativity.  From our muse to yours, Laura  

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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It is July. I stand in the kitchen, crying.

“You say you want to write, well write something! Why do you need to go on some retreat? Seems like the first step is to just put some words down…” My husband sounds both pissy and confused.

The words are logical, but miss the point, and it ignites a fire in me. Through the window I see the sun blazing away out in the backyard, and I’m surprised by the power of my anger, and the strength of my conviction.

“I do! I try! But I need help…” More tears flow, accompanied by a recounting of my view of the past several years. And why I think I should go on the Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana. I need space and support to discover a path forward, and to recover the substance of my writing self – my voice.

I brush crumbs off of the cold, smooth counter with my hand and struggle to explain. To convey that the only thing left of my writing dream at this point is the jewel of knowing. Knowing that I need to write. 3 kids, a near-death experience, and years of sleep-deprivation and stay-at-home mothering have just about eaten me alive. And if all I have to go on is this gift of certainty, it is absolutely imperative that I follow it.

My husband is not actually a jerk. He may not fully understand, but he can see that I’m desperate. The truth is, we can’t afford the retreat, and the timing doesn’t make sense.

But these things – bold stands to nurture our deepest selves – are rarely simple or easy. Every story is complicated. So, though it’s a stretch, we resolve to make it work.

And 3 months later, I’m on a plane to Kalispell to find my voice.

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Haven is not what I expected, but it turns out to be everything I need. The four days and nights blur into one another – a circling, rhythmic process that builds and swells.

Here, I am nourished, challenged, awakened, connected, raw, open, terrified, exhilarated.

I laugh and cry and stretch and learn and sit in stillness and silence to face my loudest fears.

I find a single thread that will become my voice, and follow it as it grows stronger, truer, and more substantial. Soon it will carry all my weight.

I am given a path, and a plan to carve out time and space to write – even in the busyness and noise and engulfing nature of motherhood.

I begin to hope.

***Forward

I’m back to my real life now. And back to making that same choice – to honor, protect, and nurture my writing self – in different ways.

These days it’s not a plane ticket to Montana, it’s grabbing a notebook and earplugs, and throwing myself onto the page – ungracefully, maybe, but with certainty.

It’s 20 minutes in the morning to unload my heart and clear my cloudy brain.

It’s 3 hours on Thursdays when the kids are farmed out in 3 directions – and I’m free.

It’s negotiating on Friday night for when (not if) those 2-3 additional hours of writing time will fit into our weekend.

It’s knowing – and willing myself to feel and believe – that committing to this writing is not taking away from those I love. This commitment gives me life. It gives me hope, and makes me more myself. Which, in turn, makes me a better mother, wife, and friend.

Sometimes, making this choice looks like learning to be okay with compromises.

Perhaps it’s okay to throw all the kids in the backyard for half an hour, forbidden from entering the house?

Perhaps it’s okay to allow a few viewings of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (or worse), in this formerly TV-free house?

IMG_0544Or to serve less-healthy dinners a few nights a week to save an hour or two of cooking time?

Experimenting with alternative ways to buy time doesn’t always feel great. I’m still learning. Still haggling with myself. Testing the limits in different directions to see which sacrifices and which trade-offs feel acceptable or sustainable.

Tonight I am not writing. But since that part of me has been resurrected, it’s always running in the background, grounding me. So instead of feeling stuck, lost and echoey inside, and unsure of my direction or purpose, I can embrace all of the not-writing parts of my life more deeply.

I can feel my 2 1/2 year old resting limp against my chest without being burdened. I can breathe deep, feel his soft hair on my face, and acknowledge that he’ll never be this small again, without worrying and wondering what I’ll be left with when he’s grown and gone. Because writing is here to stay.

Alexis Putnam

***Help bring a young writer to Haven Writing Retreats and have me Skyped into your Book Group!  Secure this perk by clicking here!  Only available to five Book Groups…

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23



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