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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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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 2

Haven Spring Blog Series

Stephanie Rumold

I walked out of the bunkhouse and felt the smile move through my body.  I love this place, I thought, inhaling the cool, crisp air, its healing tendrils stretching through me.  It wasn’t just the air, or the sunlight peeking through the trees, or the mist left from the rain that morning which gave the air its heaviness, or even the tender care of the Dancing Spirit Ranch team.  It was the writing. I had all the space I needed to write at this writing retreat.

I feel more me, than I remember being.  The thought jumped into my mind, making my smile widen and my brow furrow at the same time.

Looking back, I see both the truth of this statement and the strangeness of it.  How can I be less me?

Well, thank you for asking.

Apparently, I can be less me by turning pieces of me off, which is what I did many years ago.  Had you asked me in my teens and even into my early 20’s what I really, really, really wanted to be, I would have told you:  I want to be a writer.  And, looking back with the perspective of a woman in her 40’s, I will admit, I wanted it a lot.

As a very practical person by nature, this was not the career path I pursued.  In fact, I didn’t even let myself write for fun after college. Journaling, sure, but making stories up in my head?  Creating dialogue? Letting my imagination out on paper? ‘To what end?’ my logical mind asked.

So, here I sit, in a posture abandoned in my 20’s, as well, my knees tucked under my butt, leaning over the table and writing about a time I left a piece of me behind and my journey to reclaim it.  That journey started seven months prior, as I was sitting with 200+ strangers at a creativity workshop led by two writers that I admire.

We were halfway through the second day of the workshop when I scrawled a question into my journal, “Are you a writer or not?”  The letters were small and illegible, as if I worried that someone would pick up the journal and read the question later and scoff.  Moments earlier, it had dawned on one of the leaders of the workshop to pose the following of her audience, “This was billed as a creativity workshop.  And, all we’ve had you do is write. I’m wondering, how many of you are not writers?”  She paused for a quick tally and observed, “Ok, about half.”

Since I did not raise my hand, I was feeling rather proud of myself.  I did not identify as “not a writer.” Maybe, in some deep dark place in my soul, I knew I am a writer!  The chills hadn’t even made their way from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes before she followed her question up with, “Ok, how many of you are writers?”

It was here that the bitchy side of myself mentally shouted at her, Hello?  Half! I know you are an artist, but come on, lady!  This is easy math. If there are two choices and half of the group is one thing, the other half is clearly the other!!

And, yet, I didn’t raise my hand here, either.  So, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid question after all.

It’s funny how life can change based on a stranger asking a question to 200 people that seems to be meant just for you.  Are you a writer or not, Stephanie? So, here I find myself a year later still trying to own this orphaned piece. Still trying to say “yes” when someone asks me, are you a writer?  I’m getting better at it. That piece is growing and getting stronger. Maybe at one time it was like that little plant growing in the fridge in the movie, Wall-E. But now, it’s more like a small garden, growing in an atrium.  One day, if I continue to care for it, it might turn into something mesmerizing and powerful like a rain forest.

Because going on a writing retreat helped it grow and reintroduced me to the feeling of knowing myself.  Going on a writing retreat gave me permission. Permission to use writing to process grief. Permission to escape into the world of my book.  Permission to write poetry. Permission to try and fail. Permission to try and succeed. Permission to be a writer, and, thus, permission to take back this piece that makes me feel more me…than I remembered being.

More Me:

Writing Daily.

Working through grief.

Brainstorming, creating.

An extraordinary relief.

Giddiness, my story.

Crackling energy.

More me than ever

I remember being

Nicole A Grant – Writing Truth

“I’m home!”

I make my way to the living room. He has planted himself in the same usual corner of the crimson L-shaped sofa. The television, to my left, would under usual circumstances be tuned into some political talk show, but now stands eerily silent; his cellphone lies face down on the glass-topped coffee table in front of him, an island between us. His attention is single-pointedly affixed in this moment to the screen of his laptop, perched on his knees, a physical blockade; and he holds in his right hand his glass of Pinot noir, an accomplice. My senses heightened, I can almost taste the sweet, oak-wood smell from the way he is swirling his wine, the rest of him moored, immovable as a mountain.

There is a studied perfection to his whole demeanor that makes my hair stand on end. “What is it? What?” I demand. The nervous energy is like a zone of high-tension voltage wires. He says nothing. He doesn’t even look up from the screen on his lap. This lack of basic courtesy irritates me to no end, the way he just ignores me like that, no acknowledgment. The swirling wine and silence are deafening and I so want to say something to mitigate my own discomfort (and irritation), but remain statue-like and dumb. The way he has barricaded himself into a corner with his strategic placement of technological and alcoholic defenses says everything I need to know really, and I know this beyond the level of platitudes at which we have been surviving for far too long now.

I will him to say something, but still he baits me with his silence. My hoarse indignation mounts. For too long I have been striving for answers to questions I don’t know to ask; I have thought myself a fool or crazy for all the confusion I have felt; and the worst of it, I have become this person I don’t want to be because of him, prying, snooping, spying. STOP! I scream inside. I…Just… Want…To…Know. The only certainty I have is that my mind misleads me and cannot be trusted. He looks over at the dark television screen, and I can almost perceive his ruby-red thoughts swirling in synergy with his wine.

Here’s the thing: Alone night-after-night in the queen-sized bed meant for two, the discontent, and more recently, the sheer torment I feel in my relationship to him flow onto the pages of my spiral-bound notebook—I have more than one which tells you something right there. In the dark hours of so many pre-dawn mornings, I take refuge in the all-encompassing silence and the fragrant comfort of coffee and, instead of my allotted meditation practice, allow a waterfall of words to pour from my pen.  While my heart splinters, my soul speaks to the page of the very things my eyes cannot see and my mind cannot explain. These words that I have written know the empirical truth, but my mind cannot separate fact from fiction. The brain is always lying it seems, or just plain wrong, but I have an overarching awareness of the truth and, conversely, of my complacency behind not wanting it.

The lack of peaceful coexistence between my wise intuition and my naïve ignorance alerts me to this inner conflict that has the texture of sandpaper and the astringent taste of unsweetened black tea. The fact of the matter is that knowing-for-sure means I’d have to make a decision about what to do, about what comes next. I don’t want to be charged with these decisions; there are children involved, and doing something other than everything else I have already tried means tearing their world (and mine) apart at the seams. What I want is for all of this to go away.

He is speaking now, but my mind cannot process fast enough what my soul already knows. Everything I had construed to be real and true and solid falls away. Yet, in the midst of this, there is absurd relief in knowing that I was led astray by his concoction of mistruths, intentional omissions and unscrupulous deflections, and that I am in fact not crazy or insane; there is absurd relief in not having to participate any longer in this sham of falsehoods and fiction this so-called marriage has become; and there is absurd relief in the fierceness of the fury I feel at having been sucked into this deception and run around in circles like a horse on a tether. I beg for just the smallest of excuses to unleash this smoldering Me-ness that would burn holes through my pages.

And realize, Here I am. I’ve come home.

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 1

Haven Spring Blog Series

Patricia Young - A Scene

Writing may have brought me to Haven, but I wasn’t a writer until I left.

When people ask how long I’ve been writing, it makes me smile because, to be honest, I can’t remember when writing wasn’t a part of my life. From little diaries with tiny locks and keys to copying lyrics from songs to sing alone. Nature journaling, short stories to poetry. It never occurred to me that writing would become something more than a personal place of comfort, musing, or heartache about the boy in school who never looked at me, but I loved him nonetheless.

There were comments from teachers who saw that there was more in the weaving of my words then a homework assignment. But I never felt worthy to even consider revealing my work to the public or undertake writing a book. Seriously? A book? You must be kidding.

It wasn’t until a lonely night in 2013 that the realization of the trouble we were in held me tight, that I automatically turned to writing for help, guidance or a pearl of wisdom. My husband and I had lost our jobs within three months of one another. Our bank lost paperwork, had us re-do documents more than a half dozen times as we desperately fought to keep our home. Numb hope sat beside me as I aimless searched for remedies on the Internet. From stretching a dime to preparing recipes that would stretch the groceries.

When I look back, I’m not sure what I entered that brought up Haven. My now favorite photo of Laura, wrapped in a shawl leaning on a door frame, a silent welcoming to come inside gently written in her smile. She spoke of being a seeker. Well that was exactly what I was at that moment. I didn’t take time to read the entire page but sent a message and explained, in a nutshell, that I wasn’t asking for a handout. But things were pretty bleak right now, and a direction, a beacon, a pearl of wisdom would be very much appreciated. Who was I kidding? There was little chance of a response, but I pressed send, closed my laptop and went to bed to stare at the ceiling until morning.

The next day I logged on to find a letter from Laura. Not once did she ask for anything, not to buy her book or purchase tea grown in Montana to promote proper grammar, she just connected. She had actually read my thoughts, and the pearl she gave me has become a mantra. Do the work. If you want something if you have a goal if you are in darkness and need to find the light. Do the work it takes to get there.

Two months later I was at the Walking Lightly Ranch. I had never traveled that far alone before. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. It was also the day a deluge of rain took aim at the US Open literally flooding the streets at LaGuardia! Flights were canceled, and the airport was packed with soggy passengers. My morning flight did not board until midnight. I was diverted to Minneapolis and spent the night in a luxury hotel on Delta’s dime. It was a glorious, a sign, if not an exhausting way to start an adventure.

Once home I started my monthly blog Touched By Words. It is my tiny platform. My work was published in local magazines. But it was not until the following year I attempted NaNoWriMo. That is where my book was born. From that point on, I took the bones of my manuscript and built a novel. There were workshops, DVDs, writing circles, courses at the Writing Institute, connections with other writers, authors, and editors. There were some awful, terrible experiences, there were more wonderful, positive ones as I began to really understand the craft of writing. The process of writing. The art of writing.

Now, several years, many drafts, along with a multitude of people who support and encourage me. I finished my first novel. Publication requriers a completely different set of rules and skill set. Developing the query letter was harder for me than writing fifteen chapters. There are many, many people for a fee who will promise you they can help you write. And some can, but then they are silent when it comes to promising you publication. You are on your own. You have no choice but to do the work.

As for me, I have a burn now to take the traditional path and see it through. If it doesn’t happen, I’ve lost nothing but gained knowledge. Either way that is something to celebrate. Which will be another scene I will write about.

Rebecca Deslauriers - Writing as Living

I was suddenly panic stricken, my breath shallow, hands sweating as I stood in line to check out of the Bellagio Hotel where my corporation had just completed its annual meeting. Too much pressure, too many deadlines, the anvil was waiting to fall and my immediate thought was, escape.

I truly do not recall the flight home, or the ride from the airport to my front door. It’s as though that day was dragging me to the depths of an ugly place and I had a choice to climb out of the sink hole or be swallowed, never to return to be the wife, mother, friend I had been.

Months passed from that fateful day, the brink of my demise. As the anxiety and depression began to lift, I felt a new fear. Who am I now? I’m not a corporate physician/hospital administrator, I can’t go back to working in the clinical setting either. What will I do? How do I define myself now? Questions whirred in my brain for weeks.

The month was July, a beautifully new ordinary one. No time commitments, meetings, emails or being on call at the whim of my CEO. My corporate slave days were blessedly behind me. My husband and I wrote a new set of daily rules. First was to make time for myself, which I gratefully did everyday by sleeping in, often sitting outside to enjoy my coffee, read or putter in the yard. I allowed myself to go to lunch with friends, happily enjoying the freeness to nap or ride my bike. The stress had taken a hike. Emptying my soul and ravaged mind was like taking out the garbage and filling the body-can with only goodness and joy.  Those experiences filled my tank, however my gut felt empty. I didn’t miss the cloak of anxiety on my back, but I missed using my brain. What could I do? Find a new career, take a language course, volunteer at the local food bank? Yes, I tried a brief foray into improving my French and spent time helping my church fill boxes for needy children. I couldn’t put my finger on the missing puzzle piece.

July 5th, I decided I would finally clean out my home office. Opening the door, taking a breath, I walked in and began to box the endless papers and pamphlets that were strewn across the weathered white desk that sat below the photos of turtles in the South Pacific, swimming in the clear blue water. Those pictures were my daydream visuals knowing I would someday spend time snorkeling aside these amazing creatures.  Glancing to the right of my desk top computer sat my long dormant lap top. It drew me to its dusty sliver top as if an unseen hand took my arm moving it like a marionette. I blew off the dust, plugged it in to charge, completed a brief cleaning and walked out to the living room to the oversized Pottery Barn chair, threw on the blanket for the pups and plopped down with the lap top. I opened the lid, pulled up a blank page and began to write. I had written multiple papers for my education but this was different, this was heart pouring words, spilling like a cascading waterfall onto the pages. Words of grief, joy, hate and revenge. They flew across my fingers as fast as I could type. Words that were feelings, desires, needing to tell a story, a dark story but I frantically wrote for hours. I didn’t stop from that moment, except to eat, shower and perform the essentials. It became a compulsion to finish my story. So I wrote for several months and finished the book. I was elated, relieved, nervous and felt like I had discovered a newly flavored candy.  This was it, my gut relaxed and I realized I am new someone, a writer.

That initial burning need to write has never left me over these last four years. I have a hope, a relief valve, all within myself that I can release and let fly. If my words are never shared then so be it, but my purpose is filled, there is life after a career in medicine and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

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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The Art of Being Led

 

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I went to Morocco alone for a month to find “that girl” again. I’d grieved my Empty Nest for the six months I gave myself.  A grief “gift,” I called it. I observed the end of this stage of my full-time motherhood in committed vigil.  And I realized that I can live with dinners for one and a very quiet house, (even if it’s been heavy on Mrs. Maisel, Chef’s Table, and Anthony Bourdain re-runs. Okay, and Modern Family too). I’m glad I’m not driving carpool or slinging mayo and peanut-butter at 7:00am or racing to a lesson or a school meeting or a game, too often borrowing from my kids for my work, or vice the verse, and usually coming out feeling “less than” somewhere, no matter how hard I try to be all things for everyone. Except maybe…me.

I haven’t felt that way in six months. There’s been elbow room. My blood pressure is down. I’m taking long baths again. I’m reading poetry again. I’ve grown accustomed to waking and going directly to my writing and reading in that soft trance of dawn before the day steels/steals the muse. I have much more than a room of my own. I’m writing a new book or two. I’m getting a novel published in a year and I have the intuitive space to give it the finishing touches it deserves. My Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops are filling fast. The future feels bright. And Morocco was my deep bow for what I feel was the most important work of my life:  raising two stunning young humans.  I am so proud of them both…  But mothers don’t get diplomas, and Morocco was mine, so it was much more than a trip.  It was a pilgrimage to find out who I am now.

But just before I left for the airport in Minneapolis, on a quick layover to visit my son in college, I dissolved into his arms and wept. It was the last place I wanted to come undone. I wanted to be his kick-ass mama going off to see the world, head high, energetic and ready.

He looked at me somewhere between stunned and horrified and said, “Mom. Out of all the people I know, you are the most capable of pulling this off! Why are you crying???”

I bit my lip and swiped away my tears. “I’m just…a little…scared.  It’s not that I’m afraid of traveling alone. I can’t wait for that. It’s that…I’m afraid I won’t find my joy again. My wonder. My smile. I’m afraid I won’t know what to want without being the mother or the teacher or the caretaker of something besides myself.” I cracked a fake smile. “I’ll be fine. It’s probably just the lack of Vitamin D and the excitement. Stay in touch on our What’s App family group, promise?”

He nodded, but slowly.

What I didn’t tell him was that I was actually afraid of holing up in a hotel room and not having the courage to join in the throng of the world out there beyond my Montana bubble. This aroused righteous refusal from my inner critter, ranging from good to bad to ugly.

Don’t be so dramatic. When have you ever been that person? You’re a throw the window open and leap out into the streets kind of person. You just haven’t done it on your own for a long long time. Like…since you were nineteen, traveling in Europe, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. You can find her! She’s in you!

And then she’d morph into a posse of people in my life—the loudest and least helpful: Why are you going to Morocco of all places? And why are you going alone? Why don’t you go to Paris like most women your age?

The Paris card ruffles my temerity feathers. “I said it when I was nineteen and I’ll say it now: I love Paris. Who doesn’t? But Paris is easy. I need to go someplace hard. Where my habits and world view and thought patterns get all stirred up and spit out and even forgotten, to make room for new ones that don’t sabotage me. That serve me. I am doing what the poet Emma Mellon suggests. I am going to allow myself to be spelled differently!”

Blank stare. “Well, I think Paris is fabulous.”

You just have to let go, or as I’ve said for many years: allow yourself to be misunderstood. Even though you want to say, At least I’m not going to Syria alone. Or certain parts of suburbia. Wink.

I just smiled in those moments…so seemingly stalwart on the outside, but so puny and scared on the inside. And even worse, the fear wasn’t about the usual things people are afraid of when they travel. I was scared of not being able to spell myself any other way than what I’m used to. Which for the last six months, with the exception of my retreat work which I adore, has been pretty emotionally…well– low. And that is far more terrifying to me than the prospect of a terrorist attack. (And p.s., party-pooper posse: There have been way more terrorist attacks in Paris, than in Morocco!)

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I arrived in Morocco at night. I chose the oldest city, Fes, known for its authenticity and “rawness.” I’d done my homework and knew that the Fes medinas are labyrinthine, thin corridors where you get lost lost lost and have to ask for help, but only from shop keepers and women. Not because it’s dangerous, but because you might be brought to a dead end, and asked for money before you’re guided to your destination. I wasn’t afraid of that. I think what I was scared of most was asking for help at all. Even if I ended up in a dead end and I needed to pay for it. I’m just not good at asking for help.

So I’d arranged to be dropped off in a parking lot and met by the small hotel (riad), as cars don’t drive in the medinas. Donkeys, yes. And bicycles. The driver had kind eyes. I’d soon learn that Moroccans have kind eyes as a rule. A man appeared with a cart, piled my luggage into it, and without a word, walked into the dark medina, winding past cats and closed doors until we arrived at a wooden door with a knocker in the shape of a hamza (hand of God). The owners were out of town.  The manager spoke enough English to tell me so, but that was about it. It helped that he had a terrific smile and a girlish cackle for a laugh. He showed me quickly to my room with huge ceilings and a tile floor covered by one long Berber rug and stately antiques, no heat, and quickly took me up to a small dark room where my place was set in a corner of what looked like a professor’s study. There were books everywhere and a low table with a brass candlestick holding a flickering candle.  He motioned for me to sit on the pillow-covered bench, and I did.  And he left.  No other people in sight.  Dead quiet.  Dead dark.  I reminded myself:  this was the sort of moment that I’d longed for.  To be far away and out of control and having to trust in the central goodness of people.

He came back with a huge tray filled with what I soon learned were Moroccan salads—vegetable dishes full of spices like cumin, ginger, turmeric, sweet paprika, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon. Dishes of olives and a basket of bread. I thought it was dinner and that was just fine by me– it was delicious! But then he came back with a lamb tagine with apricots and almonds and couscous and the most musky heady sauce. I devoured all of it, like I hadn’t eaten a meal in days. And I started to feel a coming alive with this food in this dark room, alone by candlelight.  I slept in sweaters with a hat, since there wasn’t any heat.  I felt a little kick-ass.  A little puny.  But I wasn’t scared.  And I wasn’t sad.  I felt far away from my life and like the happiness pump was being properly primed.

Then it was morning, and I heard what I’d in-part come to Morocco to observe. Adhan: the Call to Prayer, an hour before dawn. I sat in bed, and then folded over into Child’s Pose and listened to this voice, stirring the dark cold and the waking faithful, and I felt it stirring what had felt so dark inside me.

I lay there like that for a long time, and then tucked back under the covers, keeping my mind as empty as possible.  If I was going to find my joy, I needed to keep the regular noise OUT.  As dawn slowly emerged, red, blue, amber, and green shapes cast themselves across my room, moving with the sun. Then there was a loud knock on my door. “Madame! Breakfast is now!”

I’m not really a breakfast person. But I could hear this man standing outside my door, and I quickly put on some clothes and stepped out into what was a gorgeous courtyard, open to the sky, with stained glass windows casting the same colors all over the two stories with intricate green and mustard yellow and black tiled floors and walls, and a fountain in the middle with orange trees and light! Song birds! And a little table set just for me looking over the 1500 year old medina of Fes. Fresh squeezed orange juice, Moroccan tea with a lovely silver teapot and a velvet cozy over its handle. Palm dates. Yoghurt, goat cheese, thick dark honey. Sweet potato jam. Three kinds of bread: flat, crepe, pancake. I smeared the goat cheese on the pancake, and drizzled honey on it and ate it and I felt it again: a shade of happy.

“Come, Madame,” said the smiling man, and he led me down to the courtyard where an elegant, tall man in a traditional hooded djellaba robe and striped scarf waited. My guide. The riad had suggested it in our email correspondence. I’d resisted it. Getting lost was a good thing, yes? “I like to do things on my own.  I’m a good traveler.”  But they had insisted, “Not in the Fes medina.”  So I’d succumbed, but I wasn’t happy about it.

“I am your guide for the day,” he said in a sort of British accent, smiling with his kind eyes and salt and pepper well-groomed beard.

I looked into his eyes.  This was not a typical tour guide.  There would be no selfie-stick.  This man’s eyes had centuries in them.  Immediately, I gave myself to his care, with a relief I didn’t know I needed.

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There began this coming alive that never arrived in one big rush. But in small moments when I would catch myself smiling, and usually following someone who had been designated to help me find my way. I followed this man for two days, eight hours each, all around the bustling sardine-peopled medina and outside its walls too, learning about artisanal arts, still so alive and well in this country– the hammering of copper pots, grandfather to son to son, in a small square, the ancient tannery, still operating as it had from the start, with pigeon droppings as the key ingredient, holding a bundle of mint to my nose. Following his long and stalwart steps to the oldest university in the world, University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD. Showing me the signs of Muslim tolerance in the mosaic designs—an observance of the line of Abraham, from Moses, to Jesus, to Mohammed and the eight gates of Paradise. I caught myself smiling as I skipped forward to keep up with him, weaving around fast-walking women in hijabs and kaftans buying butchered lambs hanging from hooks, and chickens from cages, and spices in pyramids on stands next to a mind-blowing variety of olives and preserved lemons. Dodging bicyclists and donkey dung. And so many many cats. He was the first of a host of guides/teachers/sages who led me through Morocco.  I will never forget him.

IMG_888738e6e069-467d-4547-ad70-620b04d96547And I got used to it– this being led. I’ve never hired a guide in my life. Not for anything. “I can do it alone.” Why? How does doing it alone make you more powerful?  I never could have possibly learned all that I did without these guides, yes about Morocco and culture and humanity, but these guides also brought my smile back.

The man who drove me to and from the Blue City of Chefchauen in the Rif mountains and stopped at groves of olive trees and orchards of oranges because I lifted my camera to the window and he wanted me to stop and soak it in. His country. Where they till the fields with donkeys and horses. “No tractors,” he smiled proudly.

The woman in Marrakech who taught me to cook tagine and pigeon pastilla, and who when I said, “I don’t have anyone to cook for anymore,” excused herself to run to the market and buy me a small red clay tagine to take home. “For one,” she smiled, also a single woman.

And the man who walked me through the thin alleyways of Marrakech by night to eat like a local in spirited hole-in-the-wall places that I would never have had the guts or know-how to navigate, to eat sheep’s head tangia, (I did not eat the eyeball, but the cheek was heavenly), snails, prickly pear, street food that I would never have dared to try, unless Bourdain himself popped it into my mouth. (Turns out he was a fan of these same dark alleys and nighttime haunts).

And the woman who bathed me. Who lay me on a hot marble slab in a hamaam fired by olive branches in an24a62db0-f1c5-4f49-a075-cfa74751034f oven below, covered my skin in a black soap mask, and scrubbed me with a kessa glove…almost everywhere, noting the layers of dead skin that I didn’t know I needed to shed. It hurt. And it healed. I walked out feeling new. “Every week,” she said, smiling, and gave me the cleaned glove to bring home.

And my GOD…the horse guide on the beach whose only English word was gallop, and I did. On a Barb Arabian stallion, at low tide, not a rock anywhere, just hard wet sand for miles.  And he filmed it, galloping alongside me, and gave it to me as a gift.  I’ve watched it probably a hundred times.  I look as free and as happy as I’ve been for a long long time.  And I felt that way too.

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There were so many other people who guided me, taught me, showed me. And I so happily followed. Most of them took my phone out of my hands and said, “Good place for photo,” and took several of them. “Beautiful,” they said. “Look.” Normally I don’t look at photos of myself. They pain me. But they were insistent. “Look!” I looked. With each photo, from each guide, there was a new width and depth to my smile. Lit from within like the hamaam.

I also heard it from people when I had wifi and checked in online along the way. “Your smile! You look so happy! You look so different!”  And yes…some of them were the naysayers!

I hadn’t known I’d let my six months of sadness show. And as I was saying goodbye to Morocco…the fear washed in again.  I was scared again.  What if it comes back when I go home?

Answer:  I’m not going to let it.  That’s all.  I am the gatekeeper, and yes the guide, to my joy.  But…in going home, I’m going to remember to ask for help, find masters and teachers and guides, and open myself to being a joyful follower.

I made these photo collages as a reminder.  Every shot, taken by my guides: (and when I say “guides”…that means all of the kind people who met me lovingly along the way.)Image-1-1

If you are longing to radically rearrange yourself, whether or not you have the ability to go away somewhere bright and new for a month, I highly recommend that you do things way out of your comfort zone. And that you find a kind guide that can show you the way. You don’t have to do it alone.

***I will be writing an extensive piece about my month in Morocco with helpful links and tips for a publication near you, so stay tuned…

One of the best ways I know to be spelled differently, is to come to a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!

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Sent from my iPhone by Laura Munson

IMG_7407I haven’t lived in a city since cell phones or emails or the internet infiltrated our civilization.  So as much as I long for my inner-child Chicago city fix, especially in the deep midwinter dormancy of Montana, when I get that fix, I’m always stunned, disoriented, and frankly worried for our world. The romance of the city, the beat and brash and bravado, the sensory glut, the shiny slick, and the glorious edge…all come at me catapult.  I want to feel every bit of it.  So I fight to keep my Montana filter-less-ness.  I want to do a daring dance with empathy, staring it all down…knowing that I will have to turn away sooner than later, blur my eyes, hold my breath past remarkable stench and heart break.  Still, I ask my heart to pound in pace with city vibrato, until I have to ask my better-sense to grab the back of my neck and force it forward. Downward. Observing only my boots and the sidewalk.  You can’t take it all in, in the end, but I like to try for a wide-eyed aperture for as long as I can stand it.

I try to make that filter-less-ness last as long as I can because I want to see who we’ve become.  I want to see that screens and satellite beams criss-crossing invisibly around us haven’t wound us so tight that we won’t be able to find our way out of this world wide web, if need be.  (I sense that there will be a Need Be.)  I want to believe that these buttons we push without a click or a feel to them, are making our lives easier and our propensity to wonder about the person crossing the street, greater. I want to believe that because it is possible to know so much now with those buttons and those screens and satellite strings…that we’re using that knowledge to linger in our longing to know each other.  Yes?  To sit longer at a meal and ask an extra question of our colleague or daughter or friend. To smile on the subway, especially at sad eyes, or to meet them with our own sad eyes. To step out of the sidewalk sea and sit on a bench for no other reason than:  all of this knowledge has turned us into supreme seeking beings and it begs us to stop.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Know. I want to believe all of that.  But sitting there on a bench, watching the sidewalk sea…I don’t.  I see people walking faster and faster and the beat driving them harder and harder.  So serious and so purpose-driven and so confident about what’s around the bend.

Last week in San Francisco, after leading Haven Writing Workshops, helping people to figure out how to write a book and how to find their voices and figure out what they have to say…I sat there on a bench and I asked myself:  How purposefully and confidently can we really walk when we depend on a small rectangle of light and its buttons and arrows to tell us where to go right and left, and when to walk straight or take a slight turn…or re-calculate. Or push in a few numbers and have a car appear that takes us where we want to go so that we don’t have to look at all.  We seem so cock-sure.  But my Montana-ness knows that it’s such a thin veneer and I wanted to cry out, “Don’t you all know how incapacitated we have all become???  How reliant?  How clueless?  Don’t you realize how fickle our power is if it depends on a cord or a battery or a plug???”  Where oh where is our true power?

Because if and when the beams stop beaming and we are released from the satellite string…nay, rope….will we look up and at each other and say, “Woah. That was a weird dream.  I dreamed I was fine.  Great, even.  But I’m not fine.  Or great.  At all.  And you don’t look much better.  Let’s not even ask each other how we are.  Let’s just be with one another.  That looks like a nice park bench. Come, let’s sit for a while and tell each other our stories. Without looking at that little rectangle of light thingy, whatever it is. Let me see your hand.  It looks tired from holding that flat ‘smart’ thing. Remember when your hand used to hold reins and gallop to the river? Or hold the plow? Or palm the seed by the light of the full moon? Was that better then? Did we look at each other more? Did we not know where we were going but for news from the next town over from a wayward traveler? Or from the way cottonwoods flank river beds across a valley? Or that the shape of a nine-month pregnant belly meant that the world around that woman needed to ready itself for another miracle?  Get the hot water boiling.  Sterilized rags.  Call the midwife?

Is our midwife named Siri now?  (At least mine has a British accent, so I feel “smart” to have a chum like her when I wander around at her discretion, muttering to myself, this is not the zombie apocalypse.  This is not the zombie apocalypse.)

Because that’s the thing:  I have to be careful not to pretend like I am above any of it just because I don’t live in the thick of it.  If Montana has taught me anything, it’s that I know I’m not above anything.  In fact, being so removed from our city civilization for twenty-seven years, often has me in a state of less-than, full-FOMO, feeling like an underconfident and yes, under-competent Rip VanWinkle.  Like when I’m in the city, I’ve been jolted awake from my own deep sleep, the opposite dream, in which I’ve been too long nestled in the cleavage of Mother Nature, going days without speaking to anyone, my only witness, the white-tailed deer.  My cell phone doesn’t even work at my house.  My wifi is fickle and so is my power.  The fireplace is not decorative.  It’s a hearth that would burn if all else failed in the way of technology, and there have been plenty of winter nights when it’s the keeper of my hope too.  And I lie there staring at its flickering coals and feeling its heat, thinking that fire is where it all started.  Fire was the initial step that humans took to what has become our giant step into our current state of things.  How different was that first spark from what happens in Microsoft think-tanks in Palo Alto?

So I wonder:

Have we always been like we are now, just with different gizmos and the same ambition?  So cock-sure in our questions and so hungry for answers? Did we claw our way up the invention ladder to this world of technology that has become our norm, yes even in Montana, (though my best friend still has dial-up and doesn’t have a cell phone at all), and has our technology really made life easier? Has it really connected us? How do we really feel…alone in the dark with our little rectangular screens giving us answers about where to go and what to do and how someone else is feeling and what they are doing?

All week long, walking the city streets, I saw despair, is what I saw.  Emptiness.  A lot of people in comfortable, yet chic, shoes, a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, ears full of headphones, Bluetooth, earbuds, talking into the ozone.  Loudly.  I saw people looking into screens for answers, not into each others’ eyes. The conversations that came easily were with– get this: Uber and Lyft drivers…most of them new to this country and trying to figure it out too.  And thus, also looking at screens for answers—shortest route, traffic, construction.  But still, into the rearview mirror, asking me how my day was going. I didn’t tell them any of this. I told them “Great!” Like everyone else. I guess a filter can only last so long, unless you want your heart to break.

So before it did, with two more days in the city, I promised to linger longer at each table with my little rectangular notebook instead of my phone. Pen to paper I wrote what I could see and recognize about our city civilization that lasts, regardless of how we have, and will continue to, develop as a species. I asked myself:  what’s been here from the beginning and what will be with us always, besides the fact that none of us is getting out of here alive.

It was the stuff you’d think it was.  I wrote:

I believe in people’s central goodness.  Just look at the way that man helped that older woman with the cane get to her seat, and waited with her until she was settled.

I believe in our need for community.  Just look at the way this restaurant has a communal table and that it’s fuller than the bar.

I believe in our fear.  Everyone’s talking about the earthquake last night and recalling 1989.  And no one is cavalier.  “Isn’t there a way for them to know when they’re coming?” I asked.  No.  Not even Siri can tell us that.

I believe in the collective.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t we all do as my literary hero, and perhaps me too:

“The world that used to nurse us
now keeps shouting inane instructions.
That’s why I ran to the woods.”
― Jim Harrison

I believe in our ability to stay.  Hold vigil.  Keep the hearth warm, whatever that means for each of us.  The tenacity of the homeless who brave the nights in doorways with one blanket and maybe some cardboard.

I also believe in our hope.  When it’s time to take a new step in a new direction.  And it might be a surprise step.  I believe in our ability to believe that there’s something around the bend that might change everything, and it might change everything for the better.  Better being a relative term.

And I think all of these core beliefs apply to any sort of living—country, city, suburban.  But it does require us stopping from time to time, moment to moment, and removing the filter to check in on where our civilization is and isn’t.  So find a bench.  A stoop.  Some steps.  And stop.  Take pause.

I’m about to go to Morocco for a month of it.  Alone.  This is my deep bow after all these years of day-to-day hands-on mothering.  It’s also my call to action for what’s ahead—to live into it bravely and whole-heartedly.  And who knows if my cell phone or my GPS will help me navigate the labyrinthine medinas and markets and if I’ll find my way effectively across the desert.  I don’t speak Arabic, or even French.  I’m going to get by on these core beliefs.  I’ll be writing about it along the way.  I think we all need to take a giant step out of our lives and see who we really are, alone in the world, without technology.  Become disoriented and wobbly and look our fear in the eye and each others’ fear too.  I found some good walking shoes.  My daughter gave me a beautiful blank-paged journal for Christmas.  I have a good book.  I have my beliefs and I have my central goodness, which I have to believe is greater than my fear.  Just like love.  Just…like…you.

Bon Voyage.

Love,

Laura

Now Booking 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.

March 20-24 (full with wait list)
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June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
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Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) is full

 

 

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