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The “Me Time” Medal: a week of wellness

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What does it take, I wonder, to just…stop?  To stop the madness of pushing buttons and swiping, clicking, scrolling from one screen to the next, taking trains, planes, and automobiles here and there and everywhere, booking that appointment up against the one before it and the one after it…instead of taking that hour to…eat?  Take a walk?  Stretch?  Or not do anything at all except…breathe?

I never thought of myself as a multi-tasker.  I left the rat race before I ever fully joined it.  I moved to a place that people yearn for, but only after they’ve lived in the “real world,” building careers and relationships and families in cities and suburbs– the Montana prize at the end of it, not the beginning of it.  Still, my kids make fun of me now during our Facetime calls.  “Let me guess, Mom.  You’re doing twenty-five thousand things at once.”

“Me?  No.  I am not.  I’m just…you know…running my business.  And writing two books.  And getting ready for my next retreat.  And paying my bills.  And booking my Haven Writing Retreats.  And getting my wood for winter.  And researching the best and cheapest snow blower because I’m not going through another Montana winter without a snow blower.  And…”

They roll their eyes and laugh at me from my laptop on the kitchen counter, so it’s almost like they’re here again, doing the same thing.

“Huh.  Am I really that person?”

“Uh…what do you think?” my daughter says.

“You’re a chronic multi-tasker, Mom.  Admit it,” my son says.  “And it’s getting worse.”

“We’re worried about you,” she adds.

“Oh don’t be worried about me!  I love my work.  I love all of it.  And now that you’ve all fledged the nest, I’m told that there’s this thing called Me Time.  I think I could get used to that idea.  Oh, and don’t let me forget– I made Bolognese sauce and froze it last night.  For Christmas.  Oh, and I need to book your flights.”

“Mom.  We’re old enough to book our own flights.  And are you really taking care of yourself?  I mean, are you sick?  You sound sick.”

“Oh, it’s just a little cold.”  I’ve been holding it back, but I let out a bone rattling hack.  “Sorry.  What were you saying?  Oh yeah.  Flights.  Well, I’ll pay for them.  I’ll give you my credit card.”

“That cough sounds nasty.  You need to take a day off.  Have you even eaten today?”

“I had a smoothie this morning.”  The tides have turned, I guess.  I tell them that I’m fine.  I’m just run down.  I’ve just finished the final touches on my novel (coming out in March 2020!), and I’m working on another memoir, and have been doing non-stop consulting for my Haven Retreat alums and preparing for back to back fall retreats. And I’m going to Chicago to do events. And I have a cold.  “My energy level is fine.  It sounds worse than it is.”

I.       Am.         Lying.

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The truth is, I’m sick as a dog.  I got back from my last business trip, and hit the wall.  I’ve been lying in bed for three days with a roll of toilet paper, (ran out of Kleenex), various and random tinctures and likely-expired remedies (my eyes are too goopy to see the fine print), Mason jars of water and Emergen-C, Tiger Balm, and something called Gypsy Cream that my friend made and which my raw nose really likes.  My eyes ache so I can’t effectively look at my computer.  I’m too tired to drive into town for supplies.  I haven’t been this flat-out ill in years.  It reminds me of being sick as a child—all set up in my parents’ bed watching The Price is Right and All My Children and General HospitalOnly there are no parents to take care of me now.

I make that thought go away and try to think light, un-pathetic things, like:  Do people even watch soap operas and game shows these days?

In the last three days, I’ve tried to find out—to make myself succumb to brain mush.  To let this cold be a gift of…Me Time.

I last about three minutes.  All those commercials with the women in creased khakis and pressed linen button-downs, happily scouring their white bathroom floors with one errant strand of hair fallen across their line-less foreheads.  Bleck.  Those women don’t exist and if any woman on earth thinks they do…they are in for abject and relentless PAIN when they wake up from the dream.

I turn the TV off so quickly, so allergically, that I wonder:  Was I in some sort of a motherhood dream?  Have I suddenly woken up, now that the last child is gone?  Because I’m in a lot of pain, and not just in my lungs.  It’s in my heart.  Not the one that beats.  The one that wants it all back, just for one day.  Those little babies climbing all over me so that there’s no time to do anything other than just blissfully be with them.  The ones who are telling me now that I’m a serial multi-tasker.  The ones who are worried about me.

IMG_3782I stare at the almost empty woodshed.  The snow will be here before I know it.  I really can’t let the snow stack up this year.  And I really need to get those airplane tickets for Parent’s Weekend.  And I have three business calls that I really need to take this afternoon.  I’ll just push Mute when I have to cough.  How hard is it to take calls in bed?  They won’t know, anyway.  They’ll think I’m in some sort of writerly Montana She Shack.  With distressed barn wood and black and white photos of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin.  Instead of balled-up toilet paper all around me, and pillows which have lost their cases in the mayhem of all this tossing and turning and coughing and blowing.  And self-pity.

But this cold won’t let me lie to myself.  It only lets me lie in bed.  Just like my children have prescribed.

When I have the energy to move, I make bone broth and tea and slog up to bed again.  I’ve lost my sense of taste.  Even my lover, Earl Grey, tastes like mucus.  Everything tastes like mucus.  My head feels like it weighs twenty pounds.  I should probably cave and take cold medicine, which I hate.  But I don’t even have cold medicine in the house.  I’ve always told my kids that we should feel our symptoms so that we are true to them.  “We need to honor our bodies, not pretend we’re fine, when we’re not.”  When did I become such a hypocrite?  Was it the minute I dropped my second child off at college and came home to Empty Nest?

My kids text me later.  “You okay?”

This is new.

“I’m fine,” I repeat.  “I’m about to take a nap.”

Which I don’t.  Instead I stare at the rain on the roof, trying to think Me Time Empty Nest thoughts:  I need to search ebay for a cheap snow blower.  Does that count?IMG_3782

And then, in the way back of my mucus-y mind, in my grandmother’s southern drawl, I hear:  “Dear.  I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.  She needs to take a rest.”  I remember thinking as a child that, based on the sternness in my grandmother’s brow, we had a real problem on our hands:  that my mother might even die from hard work.  That maybe there was no medal at the end of all her achievements, even though it seemed like she was going after one.  She always seemed like she was medal-worthy to me.  But my grandmother’s worry felt more important than any work—even change-the-world work.

My God.  Are they worried about me the way I was worried about my mother?  Am I passing the baton to my kids and are they insisting that this incessant hard-work-to-the-point-of-self-violence gene needs to end?

Because, just like her, I’m always throat-high in a project.  Or three.  Or yes, maybe even twenty-five thousand.  Always more blue blocks on my Google calendar than white ones.  I heard Joan Rivers say on a talk show once something to the tune of, “When I have an empty calendar, I’ll know my life is over.”  Am I like that? I wonder, watching the gutters do their job.  Frankly, they look tired too.

I don’t think of myself as a workaholic.  I mean, I live in Montana.  I work in my pajamas a lot of the time– don’t even own a business suit.  I drive a totaled truck and stop it often, on the side of the road, to take in the unabashed beauty of big sky country.  I spent years playing with my kids on the floor, reading with them and singing with them and snuggling with them.  Yes, I worked out of the home, but I was always just a few steps away if they needed me, and once they went to school, I worked on my career, yes, but I never missed a recital or a school program, and hardly missed a game.  I was that mom.

IMG_3782But now that they’re gone…have I put the pedal to the floor instead of allowing myself to be in neutral for a while?  And…if I’m being brutally honest…do I really want to get to know myself again, outside of my motherhood and my work?  And while I’m at it…since I can no longer bury myself in my motherhood, have I now buried myself in work so that I don’t have to be in this thing called Empty Nest, the memories lurking in every surface of this home?  Most of them so joyous.  Some of them, so not.  Am I going to be a total disaster at Me Time?

What would it take for me to actually…enjoy this Empty Nest?  This Me Time.  People tell me that it’s time to be selfish.  I have a friend who said, just before my son left for college, “I’m going to check on you every week and see if you’re doing something just for you.  Something new and different, to get to know yourself outside of your motherhood and your career.”

“I’m planning on having more time to write and publish books.  And travel.”

“I don’t mean writing.  Or traveling.  I mean at home.  Something you haven’t tried before, right where you live.”

“Like what?” I asked her, truly blank.

She smiled.  “Like…tango lessons.  Like…fly-fishing.  Something just for you.”

Huh.

“I take a bath every night.  Does that count?  I can’t get enough of Modern Family and Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace) re-runs.  There are stacks of books on my bedside table.  Which I read hungrily.  I write every morning.  These are all ways of taking care of myself.  Aren’t they?”

“Mmmmm.  You need to do something…new.”  She knows.  She believed in newness so much that she left her job in Chicago and moved, solo, to Montana.  I’ve never seen her so happy.

IMG_3782Lying here, blowing my nose and feeling so inert, so unproductive and blob-ish– I wonder if I thought that there would be a medal at the end of motherhood.  Like graduation.  Like people would stand up for you and clap and give you a fancy scroll that you can frame and hang on the wall to prove your hard work.  And I wonder, since that doesn’t exist, if I have just succeeded in transferring all of that gumption, all of those hours that I’m no longer parenting day to day, into my career.  Sure looks like it, I think, staring at the rain.  And it also sure looks like my body’s not having it.  At all.

And I read what I wrote last year at this time, when I was preparing for my first bout with Empty Nest. I was sick then too.

“So I give in and just allow the last seven weeks to flicker by like a home movie on my bedroom ceiling:  I dropped my son off at college, came back, and two days later began my work marathon.  I worked intimately with over fifty women in my five day and one day retreats and workshops.  I gave them everything I possibly could give.  I loved it like I loved…well, my motherhood.  I always do.

But in planning my fall schedule last year, I must have been absolutely terrified of Empty Nest because from September to December, there were pretty much only blue blocks on my Google calendar.  No white ones– not after 6:00 am or before 8:00 pm.  And no green ones at all– the places where my motherhood used to live.  I colored everything blue with Work.  I don’t remember doing it.  But I must have looked at those white spaces and gone Marsha Brady, filling it all in to the brim.  Never a moment to stop.

And now…surprise:  I’m sick.  It’s such a beautiful sunny snow day.  I could be out playing in it instead of lying here feeling miserable.”

Now, I breathe in and let out a long emphysema-sounding sigh.  What if I use this illness to practice on?  What if, just for this week, I cleared those blue blocks to white space, and didn’t fill them with anything?  I mean really…nothing.  Not even the Food Network.  Or Netflix.  Or even a bath.  My retreat season is coming soon.  All of the blue blocks are things that can wait, at least a week.  What if I allowed myself to just lie here and watch the rain on the roof and feel my infected lungs rising and falling and let myself feel grateful for each breath that doesn’t erupt in a hack.

For one solid week…what if I didn’t write anything or read anything or do anything or try to be anything, outside of well?  What if this white-spaced nothing…is the medal?  The Me Time Medal.  What did Winnie the Pooh say?  “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”  And then, after I’m over this cold…what if I keep it going—this commitment to the white blocks of nothing?  Sure, there’ll be blue blocks.  I like it that way and my bank account requires it too.  But what if I learned to value the white just as much?

IMG_3782I ask us all, because I’ll just bet that you can relate:  Do we have to get sick to stop?  Or can we just stop for no reason other than:  we know we need to.  We know it’s good for us.  We want to be good to ourselves.  And if we are…maybe the “medal” is wellness.  Happiness.  Peace.  We can at least try.

So for just this moment: 

Just…let your chest rise and fall. 

Feel your heart beating. 

Let your heavy head fall back. 

You don’t have to hold it up right now. 

Something can hold you.

I’ll try it too.  Today, all day, right after I do this writing thing that I know is good for me, but that I also know is still a way of doing not being…I’m going to let my head fall into pillows, close my eyes.  Breathe.  Be.  And let my body heal.

Maybe tango lessons next week.  Who knows.

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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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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 Find YOU in Empty Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29 

***note Both June retreats are full…

 

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

 

 

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The Art of Giving Up…to Go On.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPart One

Ten years ago, I watched my friend go through Empty Nest.  Her solution:  drive a massive ice-breaking truck at the McMurdo Research Center in Antarctica.  She brought some home-made hula hoops too, and a few instruments, because she’d never go anywhere without those personal items.  She faced Empty Nest with something more like…Empty Next– with the same electrifying spirit and adventure with which she’d raised her boy and girl…and now they were off to see the world.  And she was too.

At that time in my life, my boy and girl were still thick in the throes of music lessons and sports events and homework at the kitchen table and weekend slumber parties.  I couldn’t imagine letting them go, much less letting myself go.  Not like that.  I was sad for her, even though I knew she’d come back with tales to tell and more life experience under her frost-bitten belt.  But I felt like she was avoiding the grief…going so far away.  It looked like running away to me.

I mentioned it to another friend and she said, “Are you kidding?  Motherhood is great.  But you’re always a mother, even after they leave.  It’s just different.  Your kids are on to new things, and you should be too!  And you get to have your life back!”

My life back?  I felt like I was just getting the life I’d dreamed about.  Being a mother was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done.  Sure, I’d travelled all over the place in my teens and twenties with a backpack on my back.  Intrepid, stubborn, solo, and full of wonder.  Writing my way through it all.  But it felt like all of that was preparation for the most hair-raising, plot-twisting, heart-warming, soul-feeding work of my life:  raising children.

And I did it.  I did it well.  For twenty-two years.

And here I am.  In a few weeks, my boy will go to college.  My daughter just graduated from college and moved into an apartment in San Francisco.  She’s got a great job, great friends.  He’s got a great roommate and will be living out his dream playing baseball at an institute of higher learning.  I couldn’t be more proud.  We’ll move him in.  My daughter will go back to the city.  I’ll come back here to my house in Montana.  It’ll all be over.  That part.  And I’m afraid of the grief.  I’m not afraid of my future.  I’m just afraid of who I’ll be without them.  Here.  In my empty nest.  In short, this last month has been excruciating.  And I want so deeply to appreciate these last weeks.

This helps:  (maybe it will help you if you are a parent with a child soon leaving…)

So…just like my friend…I anticipated this pain.  About two years ago, I started imagining the next chapter of my life.  The fear of Empty Nest had me by the throat, even then.  But I took my friend’s lead, and my other friend’s comment, and I decided that I was going to grab this next chapter by the ponytail and yank the weeping woman attached to it back out into the world.  To trust-fall into travel and adventure, only as the woman she is now.  Exactly as she is.

So this winter, I’m hitting the road.  I’m going to live my own version of breaking the ice on Antarctica, only for me…it’s with my journal.  I’ve started a new Haven Writing Program:  Haven Wander.  First stop:  Morocco.

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My primary Haven programs  are still here in Montana, and you can bet that I scheduled four of them back-to-back for this fall with the express intention of healing Empty Nest in my own back yard by doing the nurturing work I most love outside my motherhood– helping people to find their voice through the power of the written word.

But for people who are less writing-focused and more travel-focused…I have a new adventure and it utilizes yes, my experience facilitating meaningful small group experiences in the grandeur of the Rockies…but now in exotic places around the globe!

For my first Haven Wander, I found the perfect place and the perfect people to help me plan this remarkable, priceless, uniquely local Haven program, and it lands us in a small village outside of Marrakesh, Morocco.  With the help of these fabulous and inspiring locals, I have spent the last two years putting together a week of intentional wandering around Morocco, using the Haven Wander Portfolio as our guide.  It will be a feast for the senses and soul, and with a component of giving back through Project SOAR, to empower young women in finding their voices.  I’m going first to get the lay of the land, my journal and me, so that I’m rooted and ready when the women join me for our first Haven Wander._MG_2142_20150412

Personally, I do want to see who that stubborn young dreamer was with that backpack on her back, traipsing around the former Yugoslavia and Turkey, and all over Europe in the mid-’80s.  I know she’s still in me and I do want to see what her confidence and curiosity is all about.  And I also want to meet her with the wisdom she’s gathered along the way as a mother and as a woman and an author.  I want to scoop her up and tell her that she doesn’t have to do it alone.  She can do it in the company of kindreds. Because I’m pretty sure that the nest travels with you, wherever you go.  And you don’t have to live it empty.  You can live it with a small group of women who are just as curious and just as hungry for connection with the world outside their front door as you are.  Who long to have their senses activated in a rich and deep way, and who want to learn and fill their souls with powerful and meaningful experiences.

Arabian dining tentI want to sit her down on benches and on Mosque steps and in public gardens and seaside café tables…and ask her to be still.  To watch.  To listen.  To be.  After all, she never had a cell phone.  Or a screen of any kind in that backpack.  She had a journal.  And curiosity.  And courage.  I want to scoop her up and merge with her, and tell her that she becomes a very good mother of exceptional beings who fledge well.  And that she gets to have a new chapter of her life.  And it’s going to be wonderful.

poolSo Haven Wander:  Morocco is hatching this February.  I’m taking seven women on a one week journey of intentional living and being, using writing as our guide.  As for me, I’m going to take the whole month and write my way through this first blush of Empty Nest.  I’m going to start imagining who this next me is.  Who she’s always been and who she became and who she is becoming and will become.

In this next chapter, I want to wander all over the world.  I want to go to places that scare me a little, that feel exotic, and I’m going to do it with these small, temporary communities of women who need this as badly as I do.  The sky is the limit.  Uruguay.  Ethiopia.  Kathmandu.  Thailand.  But first…Morocco.

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Part Two

Before that, though…first and foremost…when I get back home from college drop off, to this empty nest, (and even this Empty Next)…before the back-to-back fall Haven Writing Retreats and Haven Wander:  Morocco…I know I need a very deliberate and very serious pause between chapters.  A full stop to honor it all. 

So I’m borrowing from the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of this tradition of sitting shiva for a week after someone dies.  Of stopping your world and observing the loss and your grief, and the life that has left.  I’m going to have my personal version of it.  But not in uncomfortable chairs.  I need soft pillows for this.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetI’ll light a candle and sit on my screened porch in my favorite chair, and reflect in thought and prayer, and write in my journal.  No TV.  No screens at all.  Just observations of my motherhood and who these children of mine have been:

I’ll sit my personal version of shiva for my babies turned little ones turned big, and my mothering of them.  I’ll sit shiva for all the learning to crawl and learning to walk and learning to speak and running barefoot in the grass and swinging on the swing set and making mudpies.

I’ll sit shiva for piano lessons and guitar lessons and school plays and orchestra concerts and soccer games and track meets and football games and baseball baseball baseball.  I’ll sit shiva for all the birthday balloons on the garden archway and all the streamers taped to the corners of the porch and the dining room and down the banister.

I’ll sit shiva for the pony rides in the front yard and the badminton, and the croquet, and bocce, and backgammon and cards and Farkle and Scrabble on the screened porch by candlelight.  For all the bonfires and marshmallows and star-gazing in sleeping bags on the dewy cool grass.  For every ahhhhh to every shooting star.  And every ooooo to every falling one.

And then, I’ll borrow the rest of this Jewish custom.  On the seventh day, I’ll take a walk around my land, all four corners of my twenty acres, and then return to my front porch to symbolize my return to society.  I may even call my rabbi friend to read these customary words from the Old Testament:

No more will your sun set, nor your moon be darkened, for God will be an eternal light for you, and your days of mourning shall end. (Isaiah 60:20)

My kids always say, “Mom.  You walk so confidently without having any idea where you’re going.  You even walk confidently in the wrong direction.”  They’re making fun of me, of course, in their own way.  Millennials.  They’ve never navigated directions without their noses in their GPS screens, robots telling them when and where to turn.  I doubt they really know their right from their left, frankly.

“I know where I’m going,” I tell them.  “Essentially.  I like taking an unexpected turn.  I like asking actual human beings how to get to the train station.  Siri and Uber have done our civilization a grand injustice!  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about the world and humans by asking strangers questions.  And heck, if I really need to be so exact and so punctual, I have my phone, or I can research it prior.  There’s this thing called making plans, you know!”

They part laugh, part roll their eyes.  They don’t seem worried about me in the least, for this next chapter.

“The truth is…I’m sick of racing to get everywhere on time,” I tell them.  “I’m sick of being so responsible.  Of having a life where everything has to be so full and stacked and go go go.  I just need to wander again.  I need to have room in my life to stop when I want to stop.  And sit.  And just…be.  And to do it…in a very meaningful way.”

Their faces fade a bit.  Maybe the way mine did when my friend announced her Antarctica adventure.  They think that it’s nice, their mother wanting to travel in this way.  But probably a bit depressing too.  This gung-ho fling-the-windows-open mother I’ve been, pushing us all out the door on to our next adventure.  They think that maybe I’m…giving up…by wanting to wander so slowly.  Wanting to luxuriate in the senses and in connection with people and place.  That maybe I should go break ice for penguins in Antarctica!

But that’s exactly what I need to do.  Give up.  In the best sense of the phrase.

Give myself to this next chapter.

Let go of the last, onward.  Upward.

There will be that week of sitting with it.  Honoring it.  And I’m sure there will be a lot of tears and nostalgia and wanting it all back, those little ones, that young bright mother.  I’m sure I’ll sit in both of their rooms, bawling my eyes out, rocking in a corner covered in their blankets and pillows and maybe a stuffed animal that made the cut that I’ve dug out of their closet.  I’m sure I’ll be a mess.

But here’s the thing:  I can’t get it back.  It’s not possible.  And I don’t want to be miserable.  This last month, I’ve been miserable, watching the last of everything.  The last graduation.  The last family boat ride of the last summer.  The last bonfire with his buddies.  The last home game.  The last the last the last of this long chapter of our lives.

I want to feel my joy again-- the same joy I felt when they were little and we had a whole day in front of us with so much possibility and learning and wonder.  Wandering in the woods for Calypso orchids and morels.  Singing.  They say it goes so fast.  It didn’t for me.  It went long and to my core, and it makes it hard to remember who I was before it all.  I was a joyful young woman, without children, loving life.  I want her back.

tangineNow I’ll be wandering in spice markets for tangines with a world-renowned chef who will show us how to authentically cook with them.  Wandering in the Secret Garden, learning about the history of tea.  Wandering on the beaches of Essaouira and maybe even riding a camel.  Wandering in the Medina and learning about Moroccan history with a local guide who knows just where to take us so that we can follow and let go and pay attention and let this colorful country give itself to us…writing our way through it all and sharing at the end of the day about it.  And maybe we’ll even get a little lost.  And a lot…found.

Next chapter, please.  Empty NEXT, indeed!

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  We have few spots available for the 2018 fall schedule! 

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

You Are My Haven

Laura Di Franco

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You are my haven,

my safe space to be

me.

 

You’re my shelter

in a storm.

The only one

who sees.

 

You feed

my soul,

wrap your arms

around my heart,

hold the pieces

broken apart.

You

are the glue.

 

You’re the mirror

for my soul

how I know

myself

my essence

my purpose

my worth,

get acquainted

with the light

and the dark.

 

You help me

shine

remind me

there’s no more time

to be afraid.

 

What you say

sits softly

in my core

twirling

a magic wand

creating a song

from the shadows

there.

 

Finding you

like a jewel

just lying there

all sparkly and blue

in the mud

saying, “scoop me up.”

It’s like you

were dropped there

from heaven.

My haven

is you,

the calm

the fire

the peace

you inspire

the strength

I feel

in my bones

how my mind

feels light

and free.

 

Thank you

for giving those treasures

to me.

Thank you for

treading

gently,

holding me

firmly,

keeping me

still,

forcing me

into

the healing.

 

You

are my haven.

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Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PM

 Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018!

You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
Now Booking Haven I Retreats 2018! Click here for more info.

February 28-4
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?

Here is my answer.

The Chapel

Jennifer Revill

Chapel 1

Amidst the crowded terminals, the sensory assault of the checkpoints, and the rumble of shuttle buses at the curb, there is a place that breeds calm. On this day, I am alone at Our Lady of the Airways chapel at Logan International Airport.  The midday Mass is over, and the dim, brick-walled, low-ceilinged sanctuary is quiet. A decorative wood grid ceiling floats above the rows of pews. (There’s a local joke: it’s appropriate that the pews at the airport chapel have insufficient legroom.) Rows of colored votive candles glow.

When it opened in 1951, this chapel was the first at a US airport, and the first Catholic one. But like many airport chapels throughout the world, it has become nondenominational of necessity. Below one of the Stations of the Cross, there is a neat stack of prayer rugs and a diagram with an arrow pointing towards Mecca.

During my thirty years as a facility manager at this airport, I’ve observed millions of travelers. What they do can be amusing, even endearing, but also aggravating, sometimes downright distressing, and, every so often, illegal. These people want and need many things: a craft-brewed beer, a cinnamon latte, a place to nurse their baby, to charge their phone, or to shed a tear in private. Though they are travelers, they are vulnerable human beings first, who exhibit the complete range of human emotions while under our roof: dread, fury, despondency, anticipation, joy.  Always, they want to feel secure, and to feel certain about what’s going to happen next. It’s my job to help them succeed in this.

I was at Logan on 9/11. That morning, a colleague raced out of his office, shouting, “An aircraft just hit the World Trade Center!” Was this possible? And then he said, “And they’re saying that the plane left from here!” This was downright terrifying. Within an hour, not knowing much more than the rest of a shocked nation, a team of us had gathered at the airport hotel in preparation for…what? This was not an ordinary crash that we were trained to handle. That day, we could only watch the tragedy unfold on television. Holding hands in that hotel conference room, we watched the North Tower collapse, many of us weeping.  The airport chaplain stayed with us all afternoon, tendering comfort and prayers.

Eventually, amidst the uncertainty, we set to work. We received and comforted the families of the crew and passengers on the two airliners that had been lost, who showed up at the airport for lack of any other place to go. Every building, parking garage, tunnel, and rooftop were inspected. We also needed to close and secure every terminal at Logan for the several no-fly days that followed the attacks. Airports are not designed to be locked. This had never been done. It seemed impossible.

But it wasn’t impossible.  How do any of us ever do the many impossible things that we are all called upon to do in a life? Starting from a place of security helps; but if we don’t have that, and we don’t have certainty, we simply stumble forward in faith and hope. As vulnerable human beings, we set to work, doing our best and trusting for grace.

This chapel is my Haven. I come here when I need respite from work stress, or a moment to expand my heart. I think about life, the loss and pain of it and the exultation of it. I say thanks for the people who feel their way through life beside me. This little chapel helps remind me that so much is possible.

My Haven

Natasha Kasprzyk

As a high school English teacher, I’m used to being asked questions.

A lot of questions.

Most of the time, the questions allow for reasonable answers:

What’s a semicolon?

Why does “pneumonia” start with a “p”?

How long does this have to be?

Some questions have answers, but they’re never satisfying:

Why did Candy let Carlson shoot his dog?

How could the jury convict Tom Robinson?

But those are nothing when put up against the mother of all questions:

What does this word mean?

How do we know what a word means? Do we consult the Rosetta Stone? Urban Dictionary? Connotations from 1972, 1986, or 2015? How my nephew names his toys? Is there a “correct” meaning for any word?

Take “haven,” for example. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition is “harbor, port”. So…where a sailboat hangs out when it’s over summer tourism and needs to introvert extra hard?

The secondary definition of “haven” is “a place of safety: refuge.” I don’t get why that’s the second definition. Was it 26 votes shy of taking first after the dictionary gods found themselves deadlocked and handed over the reins to Survey Monkey, letting plebeians make the final call?

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that to truly honor a word, one should pick it apart, turn it inside out, see how it looks next to last year’s favorite sweater, the hurrah of this year’s 4th of July fireworks, a hot mug of tea…and how it fits inside one’s heart.

Or, in my case, how one’s heart creates space – becomes a haven – for another, and for itself.

In March 2011, my heart was beating too fast, working too hard, and becoming too full of what didn’t serve it. If I couldn’t realign its purpose, I didn’t know how much of my original self I’d be able to save.

In one grateful moment, I realized that in order to be me, to be my true self, I needed to take care of someone else.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I brought him home. He just stared at me, his brown eyes boring holes into my soul, wondering if he’d be safe, loved, protected…and, perhaps, what my expectations of him would be.

Don’t put him in bed with you, they said. He’ll never sleep in his own bed, they said.

We’ll be fine, I said.

Seven years later, we’re still fine.

I’ve shaped my life around him. I make sacrifices for him. He can drive me absolutely bonkers for three days straight, but as soon as I have to turn my back and leave him with people who love him, I miss him.

He is my everything.

This is how I show up for him, my haven: I make room in my heart because I love him so much.

He radiates joy when we go to the park, as he runs and spins in circles until he’s out of breath. He brings joy and smiles to friends and strangers because, really, he’s just that cute.

And, at the end of the day, he curls up in my lap, nudges my legs with his head, lets out a deep sigh and a soft smack of his lips as he settles into sleep.

To love him and see a brighter, more interesting world through his eyes — he is my haven, he will forever be the primary definition for that word in my personal dictionary, and I’ll show up for him for as long as he’s here and years after he’s gone.

My baby boy.

My first love.

My first dog.

Sully.

Steamboat Sully

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