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Mentoring Muses

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If you want to see pure passion in action, click here!

KATE’S GO FUND ME DRIVE IS A SMASHING SUCCESS!  THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED!  Now for Haven to hold her muse!

Do you ever meet a young person and think:

That’s me. Decades ago. I can see their heart and their passion and the very real struggle ahead of them. And I know an excellent cure!

And then you reflect on your life:

It took me until now to find it– it took me years and years of brutal searching and suffering. If only they would do this one thing NOW, instead of wait…  How can I save them that long slog? How can I watch them struggle when I know there’s a solution right in front of them? And why does it have to come down to money?

Years ago, I served as a local judge for a national student’s writing contest here in Whitefish, Montana. Year after year,  from elementary school to middle school, and finally high school…there was one writer whose work leapt off the page and into my heart. The authors’ names were kept secret, but I couldn’t help but open her entry, read a few sentences, and think, I bet that’s her again. I can hear her voice. It’s growing and getting better. Good for her! As much as I considered all of the entrants, she was the winner. She had to be. She was that good.

I yearned to mentor her, yet I had to remain anonymous. Still I’d go to the award ceremonies and privately cheer her on, just to see her in body, not only muse. She truly shone– a town golden girl. Eventually, I heard that she’d been one of the rare ones who’d gone off to the Ivies back East. They, I’m sure, courted and cajoled her, and I wondered if she’d forget about her writing once she got to the land of such spit and shine. I knew full well what that life inspires. I’d lived it. And I’d left it because I knew that if I stayed in that world, I’d never be true to my muse. And I’d probably never be successful by society’s standards, either. Still…I had to heed the call, and to do so, I headed west– found myself in the very town she’d eventually launch from. Mostly, I wondered if she’d forget her muse and her Montana and give herself to all of those brass rings.

And then one night this spring, I went to our local Whitefish Review launch to hear one of my favorite all time writers (and friend) David James Duncan speak, walked in to the venue, and there on a stool, reading with poise and passion…was…

Kate:
…I met author Laura Munson, officially, at Casey’s Bar in Whitefish, Montana several weeks ago. We were at a release party for The Whitefish Review, a reputable journal based in Whitefish. I’d been accepted for publication and was reading part of my story. After shakily sharing my words with the crowd, Laura embraced me. “I’ve read your work since the beginning,” she said. She’d been the secret judge of all of those writing contests, the ones I entered every year as a child. “Here you are.”

There I was. After the reading, Laura and I kept in touch. She shared her story. She validated mine. Her Haven retreats, nationally known and highly respected, emerge from her own story of the pursuit of words, one that feels similar to mine. Laura herself gave up the hallmarks of the east, the shininess of ambition, to come to Whitefish and write. Her retreats scrutinize what is powerful; they encourage conviction. They work mindfully and rigorously through the art of retreating within, and telling a story, and sharing one’s particular voice.

When she suggested that I attend her retreat in June, I felt honored. I felt once again, for the thousandth time, that curious emotion of surprise: “If I was still in New York….”  I said I would come.  But I had no idea how…

Laura:  

It was true.  Kate had stopped writing.  And then the shininess became un-shiny, and after enduring an abusive relationship, she bravely returned to her roots, this time in another small, vibrant Montana town.  I am thrilled to say that she is writing her first book about…you guessed it:  Montana.  Needless to say…I want her at Haven.  It is exactly what she needs.  I know it the way I knew her muse all those years ago.  Haven would be the very thing to set her up emotionally, psychologically, craft-wise, and project-wise to have the writing support, mentorship, and community that she deserves.  I am holding a space for her in June, but it comes down to cost.  The Haven Foundation has given her a substantial scholarship, and now she needs help raising the rest of her tuition.  No one likes to ask for money, and she is the last one to even consider it.  I have encouraged her to start a crowd-funding campaign on Go Fund Me.  Please…if you have ever looked a young person in the eyes and thought…I am she/he…consider donating whatever feels right, to her cause.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, (and Kate’s too),

Laura

To donate to Kate’s fund, click here!

To donate to future scholarship funds for Haven Writing Retreat attendees, contact Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

The Haven Writing Retreat 2017 Schedule:

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

For more info, and to set up a call with the Haven Team, click here!

Also, I’d like to use this page as a forum in the comments section:  if there is any young person you know who is raising funds for their dreams to come true, add them there, and hopefully we can be the village to help our next generation bloom into their wildest dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #9: Finding your Voice

Being passionate for our safety first is our bottom line non-negotiable.  Maybe then, pain wouldn’t have to be gain.  And walls would become doors, and pain would become passion and possibility.  And I’d like to think that a little writing along the way helps…At Haven, I teach people to find their voice, their passion, their sustainability through writing, in whatever form they choose. I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice, but what does it really mean?

Here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression. Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #17: Beyond Silence by Caroline Hemphill

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After tucking us in to bed, my mother would bring a bottle of wine and a glass down to the basement, shutting the door behind her so we wouldn’t hear her sobbing. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, given six weeks to live. My brother and I would sneak down to the kitchen and press our spying ears against the basement door. If I skated across the floor in my footed pajamas, my brother waved me back. We kept vigil, knees on the chessboard linoleum.

For a year after her death, I barely spoke. My voice seemed buried with hers. I was shy of life, timid, afraid to breathe. Writing was a way to become real. Over the years, I practiced all kinds of lives on paper. I wrote stories in the voices of animals. I wrote pastoral poetry while living in a trailer. In college, I went to plays, trying to figure out how to bait a line like Tennessee Williams:

Margaret: Y’know what I feel like, Brick? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Brick: Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it, cats jump off roofs and they land on their four feet uninjured!

I wrote poems where it snowed and snowed. I copied other writers, their confidence, their daring. I wanted to be a writer but it felt like pretending. I wore concrete shoes. I typed with my eyes closed.

One morning, I woke from a nightmare that my boyfriend had run off with my best friend. I told him the dream over pancakes. It was real, I said. I’m here. With you, he said, annoyed. Within six months, he had stolen my truck and driven all night to bed her. I can’t blame him—she was beautiful—and I can’t blame her—she was beautiful. It freed me, and I am glad, now, though not about the truck. That experience told me to trust my dreams so I started to write them down. Chagall painted his dreams. Mary Shelley, Stephen King. Dreams allowed me to go further into the woods than I would venture in daylight. Within a few months of writing down my dreams and working the images into lines, I published my first poems.

When I write, I try to kick that basement door open. I take an ax to it. I run down the stairs to my mother. And she is never there. In reality, the door had no lock. I tried once to turn the tarnished brass knob. My brother grabbed my wrist. Listen, he whispered, and we pressed our ears to the door.

Before I could piece together my memory, I had to hear the silence after my mother stopped crying. I had to allow it to flood and erase everything in its wake. I became driftwood, an empty bottle, a plastic bag pulled by the current. Silence wins. But there is something on the other side of silence. It’s startling and sudden and not yours to keep like a piano spilling onto the street. The whole world is a door.

 - Caroline Hemphill

 

 

Essay #18: I Will Stand Up by Lauren Dembo Menis

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Here is my promise to you. I will stand up.

As a Jewish, South African woman, I have never felt the sting of racism or hate. I have been part of the oppressor class, and I carry that with me each day as a burden of guilt. I watched through a child’s eyes as my society, empowered by the rule of law, treated an entire race of people as a different class. I am no longer that child. And I will no longer stay silent. I will stand up.

Throughout my childhood, I saw my beloved Ray-Ray, a woman whose only choice, which is no choice at all, was to work as a live-in maid, to cook and clean for my family and to raise me while seeing her own daughter only once a year. I watched as she hid under the bed while policemen banged on the door, ready to take her away if she didn’t have the right stamps in her passbook. I saw her “home” in the back of our house, a room with a concrete floor, a bed and not much more. To Ray-Ray I promise that though I did not before, I now will stand up.

To Liz Thompson, whom I know only from a Facebook post, who held her purse and her tongue on the New York city subway while a man spewed his vile racism at her, while everyone around sat mute, I say this. I will stand up.

To those of you who were there, who watched as she was berated and did not stand up, I say you are complicit. Whether you were stopped by fear or civility or just shock, whether you are still adjusting to this new world where people suddenly feel they are allowed to bring their prejudices and hatreds from the darkness within which they reside out into the light, know that there is no longer room for complacence. This is not a time for silence. We must act. We must stand up for those among us who are targeted. Never mind that it could be you next. That is not the point.

The thought of Ms. Thompson, holding her purse and her words while her tormentor was allowed to rant, will not leave me. I wish you bystanders had stood up. Because it is no longer okay not to. And so I make this pledge to you. I will not stay silent. I will not watch as anyone is threatened or treated like they don’t belong or made to otherwise feel less than. I will use my voice, my words, everything I can to speak up for you.

To my Muslim friends and those in my community, when I hear someone tell you you are not American, that you don’t belong here, that your religion is not acceptable to them, I will stand up.

Last week, when the words of anti-Muslim hate allegedly from a city employee were captured from a Facebook post, we fought together. Through emails and phone calls and research, we spoke up. And we won.

To the self-hating bottom-feeder from my home state of Georgia who posted an ad for a barbecue grill as a “Jewish baby stroller,” while you are not really worth it, hiding behind your screen, you have been outed. You are nothing. And we will not let you win.

I am not poor. I am educated. I have white skin. And while I am suddenly aware of my Judaism like no other time before, it is not something you can see on me. But I will not be silent. Passivity is no longer an option.

To the man in the East Atlanta coffee shop who took a photo of the woman in the hijab and then called her names, she stood up. She videoed him and outed him. He was identified and shamed. And this is what it takes.

And so I ask you – who are you going to be in the strange new America we now live in? No time before in my lifetime has the cliche that there is strength in numbers been more true and more of a call to action. I heed that call because numbers start with one. We have marched and we have made phone calls and we have commiserated about the madness. But we must, as individuals, fight for each other. Because each act of hatred that is faced, each time a person who feels they have permission to engage in repulsive behavior is called out, is a victory for our humanity. The small acts are as important as the larger ones. We must stand up.

 - Lauren Dembo Menis

 

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #8: Finding your Voice

 

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out. 

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

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #15: Why I Write by Carol Howard-Wooton

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We arrived at a Youth Hostel somewhere between Banff and Jasper at 4 pm. I claimed my mattress in the girls’ dorm and returned to my three-speed Raleigh bike to retrieve the green spiral notebook from one of the saddlebags. Finding a quiet place with enough light, I wrote about exuberant physicality – pedaling as fast as I could downhill chased by a snorting bear cub – escaping danger by what I now call grace. Back then, it was yet a another wonder I had to write about. Equal to the first time I washed my hair in a crystal clear waterfall, or that I was fine with only the clothes that fit in two small saddlebags, or that time Eddy, the cute older trip leader and I stood beside one another on an alpine slope, right after a thundershower – our eyes riveted by the danger that did not befall us and a luminous sunset-pink sky between two distant mesas. And I got the guy! I didn’t dare tell anyone, not even my best friend. It was Private. Writing captured awe, wonder, and heart-throbbing longing, and protected me from the stinging shame that always followed even good-natured teasing. I thought I was smart to not be stupidly trusting enough to speak my truth.

That little green book is safely packed in a box in my closet. Every time I hold it I am reminded of my Dad who worked in hot NYC that summer to pay the bills, and the generous, wise parts of my Mother who let me go on that first adventure where I formed my inner self through writing “in-ventures.”

Deep Time opened up again at age 38 after a stroke knocked me off the express train to success by 40. I wrote because I had time – lots of it. And was alone more than I’d ever been. I couldn’t drive. I wrote because I could. And, I was fascinated by being this bewilderingly strange me in a new body and brain. I’d watch and feel my hand slowly move across a blank white page. I’d try one kind of pen, then another, or a different color ink. I was doing something! I’d watch the hand that still knew how to form letters and mostly how to spell words. Words that represented my inner knowing even when it was so hard to walk down and then back up 32 stairs at our San Francisco flat. I wrote because I could hardly work. I wrote to name, feel, explore, understand who I was now and what all the loss meant. I wrote because, even with all the disability and uncertainty, I felt safe – held by an abiding love. I wrote because I was amazed the stroke led me to my life’s work: leading groups for Folks with Strokes.

The first poem of my own I dared read aloud wrote itself through me. On the last morning of a retreat on a mesa above the Pacific ocea for patient-oriented holistic medical professionals, our guide invoked the spirit of service that had called us together. She invited us to write prayers for our work. Spirit, voice, mind, heart, hand and service aligned. I trembled as my shy wisdom voice read. I looked up into the shining eyes of those whose arms helped me climb up from the beach the day before. I was whole here. Our guide called a few months later to ask permission to include my poem in a book she was editing. I said yes. You can find “Group” in Wounded Healers, edited by Rachel Naomi Remen.

 - Carol Howard-Wooton

 

Essay #16: Finding Your Voice by Patricia Viscione Young

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In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It it will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

- Patricia Viscione Young

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #7: Finding your Voice

 

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Writing holds me together and always has.  I have said many times, “Don’t wait for the rug to get ripped out from underneath you to find your passions.  When I went through re-invention 101, I’m glad that my passions were in a row, even if my ducks weren’t.” 

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #13: by Pamela Price

It seems like I have always had a voice. The stage was small and dusty in my elementary school auditorium when I approached the microphone for the first time to sing. I was nine and my fellow classmate was a short, dark-haired little guy who was a wiz at the piano. I can clearly see his round face, small hands and endearing smile encouraging me even after all these years. The crowd was maybe 50 people. It felt like a thousand. We performed a stirring rendition of Moon River. When it was over, the audience clapped…very loudly. And I will never forget that feeling.

I always had my music to express myself. I sang for the next 50 years, but I always sang someone else’s words. They were great and inspiring words to be sure but someone else’s words. All the words that were in my head, my words, just stayed there churning in a washing machine cycle that never hit spin.

One day I picked up Laura Munson’s book. I read it from cover to cover and then read it again. This was a voice that spoke to me. This New York Bestselling author actually had a “voice in her head.” She gave the voice a name and listened to it….double wow. Oh my goodness, I was not the only one! I searched the internet. I found her blog. I read about the Haven retreats. I thought….and thought. Could it actually be true that everyone has a writing voice?

It took several years before I convinced myself to call Laura. I just kept thinking about the words “you don’t have to be a writer to attend a retreat, just a seeker.” I identified with the seeker and secretly was excited about the writing. I was ready for a step out of my comfort zone.

My heart was beating so fast, I thought the person sitting next to me could hear it. I thought if it didn’t slow down, it could actually turn into a medical event as I sank into that big sofa in the sunroom at the Haven retreat. I hoped the big pillows would just swallow me.

It was my turn to read what I had written. The room was dead still, no sounds except for that damned pounding in my chest. A room of faces stared at me in anticipation. I read my paragraph and heard an unfamiliar voice. Not a confident, well rehearsed singing voice but a shaky, squeaky voice. A voice that had one thing going for it…it was finally attached to my own words. Words that came from me, from my brain, from my soul and had somehow ended up on that piece of paper in front of me.

I have notebooks with endless pages of words. I have files on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone. I try to write something almost every day even if it is only an email or a note. I practice with words. I read with a highlighter. I am no longer overwhelmed by those thoughts in my head. They are my voice, and I let them tumble onto a page. I read them, throw out some of them and cherish others.

I haven’t decided what to do with all these words but the picture is coming into focus. I find my best self in them, parts of me I didn’t know existed. Some things I like, some things, not so much. I am no longer afraid to write or that  my writing is not worthy. I have found a different voice from my musical one…my own.

- Pamela Price

 

 

Essay #14: Reckoning with Janteløven by Colleen Brennan

Finding my writing voice suggests I had one to begin with. Suggests I lost it. Maybe along a washboard road somewhere. And then found it. Perhaps in the ditch, floating in the run-off after a sudden downpour.

Truth is, every time I sit down at my writing desk I’m in search of that voice. Sometimes it shows up right away, like a pack of bison in the road. Sometimes it dawdles and I have to wade out into the tallgrass prairie to look for it, hoping a rattlesnake doesn’t bite me when I bend over to pick it up.

My ancestors were Norwegian homesteaders who built houses out of buffalograss sod in the Dakotas. When the wind chill is 40 below and you’re tracing the clothesline at night with your mitten to get from the back door to the outhouse, you wanna yell for help. Or at least grumble a little. Uff-da. But you don’t. Because no one will hear you in the deafening wind. And no one will applaud your success in having made it to the “pit” and back. It’s just the way it is. It’s Janteløven, the law of Jante, the principle that you are nothing special, no smarter, no better than the rest of the folks around you. You suck it up and keep going.

With this sort of upbringing, can you see why it might be hard for me to claim a unique writing voice? We weren’t supposed to believe we had a unique anything.

But what I’ve learned from Janteløven is just how much noise there is in silence. There’s a voice there, too. My voice. I was bashful, but I noticed things. Like the tiniest arch in my mother’s left eyebrow when she disapproved. Like the Bing Crosby-ish timbre my dad’s voice took on when he won at cribbage. Or how we didn’t call Harald “Uncle” Harald even though he lived with Aunt Astrid.

I was a little kid the first time I heard my writer’s voice. Slogging up McClelland hill in my plaid sneakers to the empty lot to hunt for agates, I discovered creating dialogue in my head made the hill climbing easier, made being alone less lonely. I spoke in both voices: a brother and sister living in a boxcar. (Oh, yes, I stole those characters from Gertrude Warner’s The Box-Car Children. No doubt I’d just finished reading that story, splayed out on the grass inside a teepee – a blanket thrown over the clothesline, you know what I mean.)

I took to writing in a diary. My first one had a tiny gold lock and key and I kept it in a box in my closet. If I couldn’t talk about my fear that the Abominable Snowman would step on our house and kill all of us, or about my crush on the red-headed boy who lived across the creek, or about how I hoped my piano teacher would fall down the stairs so I didn’t have to play at the recital, at least I could write about it.

It’s tough hanging onto my writing voice. Janteløven hovers close by, whispering stuff like “Just who do you think you are?” And I have to once again wade out into the tallgrass, or grasp onto the clothesline in a blizzard, or trudge up to the empty lot (where I imagine agates lay gleaming below the gravel surface) and retrieve what I lost. But once I have it again, I can stand up to Janteløven and answer truthfully, “I’m a writer with something important to say. Listen up.”

 - Colleen Brennan…website coming soon!

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #6: Finding your Voice

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

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #11: How Writing Helped Me Give Words to the Voices in My Head by Kris D. W. Ferrell

I hear voices, but not the voices that spawn pea soup spewing type movies. No, I hear the voices of squirrels named Alfred, of dogs named Smooch, of Christmas trees name Dougie; I see conversations between paperweights, desks, chairs and robot clocks, I color in vowels and paint in prepositions and dangle participles all over the place to speak my truth. I could tell you more of what it is like to live in my head but it is better to show you.

My story begins with nine strangers in a Montana yoga studio. I am not sure what sort of rift in the universe brought us all to that exact moment in time and space to sit together on the floor and discuss our intentions for attending a retreat at the Haven. Nevertheless, we shared our desires for writing, our intentions for the retreat and our motivation for sitting cross legged 45 years after it went out of style. I said I came to “break the back of my inner critic” and “finish a book” I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month three years earlier. I was determined to move forward at all costs.

Like many attorneys, my novel languished in a file on my computer, the cursor blinking, always blinking, always B-L-I-N-K-I-N-G. It blinks at me even now keeping steady time like a metronome, daring me to delete what I have just written. I pump my fist and say, “damn cursors, you dainty devils delivering distraction and disappointment,” and come back to reality. In five days at the Haven outside the town of Whitefish, Montana, I broke through and found my voice. I also found my aversion to kale runs pathologically deep.

The first day of stretch writing I told myself “go with it” I heard “trust the process” so I squared my shoulders and wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote because the promise was support without criticism. I read my ‘writing’ and for the first time to someone other than my dog and I heard validation, appreciation and acceptance. On the second day, I discovered my process is a lack of process, I shouted “move me, shake me, make me write bad poetry” and produced a poem that made my wife cry when I gave it to her this past Christmas. And on the third day the stone was removed and I emerged flying by the seat of my pants, my shorts hanging out and my hair on fire. I shouted to my middle school English teacher, the one who said I could not write, could not speak, had nothing to say and needed to make sure I sat more ladylike “screw you and your toenail clipped wig collection, yes I can, yes I can, yes I do and screw you and your ladylike bourbon breath, I don’t want a process or to be processed or to be processing or to be you.” I shouted to those nine kindred souls in that yoga studio on the final day, okay I didn’t shout because it is a yoga studio after all, but I did proclaim I write to misbehave!

Now the process sometimes feels stalled and forced and hard and gritty. But the best part is I write to misbehave and misbehaving is hardly ever work for me!

- Kris D.W. Ferrell

 

 

Essay #12: Becoming Reliable by Michelle Roberts

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“Come on. They won’t mind. I just want to show you my cubicle.” I ushered my friend into the building. He’d been the one who took my frantic call and offered me his couch. As if mania allowed for actual rest.

We walked in through the publications department. These were the writers and graphic artists I mingled so easily with compared to my fellow engineers. I stopped at the first desk.

“Shannon! Hi! This is my friend Paul. I lost my virginity to him in college. Funny, I never thought about that. My first middle school crush was a Paul, sex for the first time was with a Paul and then I married a Paul. Huh”, smiling at her as if she shouldn’t be surprised to see me while I was on medical leave.

I don’t remember her reaction or Paul’s. Hate to think of it even now. My memories of those months before and after my hospital stay are disjointed. Manic me is the definition of the unreliable narrator.

When I met with a new therapist years later, I had changed jobs and was managing my bipolar symptoms without medication.

She asked, “What do you do when you’re manic?”

“Well, I’m more social. I go dancing. I write. I paint. I exercise.”

“Do you think maybe mania is your binge on all the things that are missing from your everyday life?”

She was right. Even though there were early signs in high school of hypo-mania and mild depression, it wasn’t until engineering took me away from dance, creative writing and art that my symptoms became severe. When I was manic, I uncaged my creativity like an animal rights activist freeing animals. I let loose and later lived with the shame of the things I said and did. Knowing those were just the things I remembered.

After my hospital stay, I stopped talking or writing about anything personal or meaningful. I was still mortified by my unhealthy voice and didn’t trust myself with what I might say or the emails I might send.

Then, in 2012, I read a Call for Submissions for the Haven Winter Blog Series. The theme was Breaking Points and I finally put that week in the hospital into words. Ten years later, even my closest friends and family had never asked what it was like in a Behavioral Health facility. Most people hope they’ll never know.

I read my submission to my therapist at my next appointment while I was waiting to find out if it would be selected. She was sure that it would. I remember sharing it with my mother over the phone and I cried when I opened the email from Laura Munson confirming it would be posted the following day.

I’d used my most authentic voice to describe the scariest thing I’d ever experienced and it connected with others in ways I hadn’t in a long time. Mania convinced me I was too much for most people to handle. I started to accept that might be a lie.

This past October I attended Haven Writing Retreat. Sharing in a room with other writers, I realized mania was a binge for my voice almost fifteen years too soon. In my early thirties I wasn’t ready to speak from my truth, be heard or bear witness for other truth tellers. Now at forty-five, I understood that being open is healing, if also a little terrifying, and our voices are meant to be heard. This special retreat in Montana is called Haven because it’s a safe place to begin.

- Michelle Roberts

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #4: Finding your Voice

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

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

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Laura Probert

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Noha Al-Kadhi

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Erika Putnam

 

Essay #6: Denying and Declaring Voice by Brenda Wilkins

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

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

‘Yes,’ anticipating admonition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Brenda Wilkins

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #2: Finding your Voice

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

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

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

Yrs. Laura

Essay #3: VOICE LESSONS by Donna Naquin

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

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

-Donna Naquin

 

Essay #4: FINDING MY VOICE by Julie Steele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Julie Steele

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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

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

 

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New Year’s Hope: Winged Victory

So Now What?

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

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

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

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

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What wings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winged Victory!

Winged Victory!

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

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

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

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Happy 2017 from my family to you!

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

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

A Slice of Haven Writing Retreats: 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Questions Can Help You Find Your Voice

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

September 21-25 (one space left)
October 5-9 (spaces left)
October 19-23 (spaces left)

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

What does it really mean to find your voice?  I use this word “voice” all the time when I talk about writing.  Often I get met with looks of confusion or even terror.  “I don’t have a voice,” so many people say.  “Someone already said it better than I ever could, anyway.”

To me, that’s like being mad at God and saying that God doesn’t exist in the same breath.  If you’re mad at God, then you must think God exists.  If you simultaneously say that you don’t have a voice and that it isn’t unique, then you believe your voice exists!  And that’s where the writing comes in.

In my formative years, I had what my teachers called verbal diarrhea.  What’s the symbolism of the fish in “Old Man in the Sea?”  Oh oh oh!  Pick me!  Pick me!  I was THAT kid whose arm was raised so long that she had to prop it up with the other hand at the elbow until her fingers tingled, and still they only called on me when all the quiet people had been given a shot.  I screamed my lungs out at lacrosse and soccer and hockey games.  I was the president of the choir.  I spoke at chapel services.  I was in every musical, usually the brazen alto hussy.  Adelaide in Guys and Dolls is still one of the shining moments of my life.  In other words, all the world was a stage.  And that was before answering machines.  If there were answering machines in those days, I would have been cut off every time.  Beep.  Redial.  “Part Two…so anyway…”

And then, junior year in high school, I went mute.  I got vocal nodules.  I couldn’t talk without a severe rasp.  I couldn’t sing at all.  And I certainly couldn’t cheer.  The doctors told me that I could undergo an operation to remove the nodules, or I had to stop talking, including whispering, for three months.  Smack dab in the middle of my glory days.
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No talking?  Who was I without talking?  If I didn’t answer hard questions in the classroom, was I smart?  If I didn’t cheer at the game, did I have school spirit?  If I didn’t stay up late night with friends solving the problems of the universe, was I loving and loyal and deep?  If I didn’t join the throngs that converged between classes, in the dining hall, in assemblies and social gatherings with my stab at quick wit or charm or whatever it was that I was trying to prove in the weight of words…then who was I?

Everything changed that year.  In the classroom, my hand remained on my pen, taking copious notes where I would otherwise be thinking about what I was going to say next.  In conversation, I did the same.  I listened.  At sports games, I learned how to whistle loudly.  And to communicate what I had to say, I carried around a notebook.  High school girls talk fast, and writing takes a while.  So I learned to only chime in when I really had something important to add to the conversation.

But I felt left out.  So I fashioned a tool that changed my life.  I started asking questions.  Questions were the way to go.  People had opinions and answers and I loved writing them down and turning them into essays for the school newspaper, like Erma Bombeck.  I wanted to be Erma Bombeck.  But how was she so sharp and funny and real and deep?  How did she have that unique Erma Bombeck voice?  It dawned on me that it had to grow from a deep curiosity.  She had questions, and she wrote into the answers.  Questions held the key.  It would be years before I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:  “…love the questions themselves…”

A question, especially a powerful one, begs an answer.  And no answer is ever the same.  It’s only as good as the person of whom you ask the question.  Of course we all fear that we are ripping off something that we heard someone else say, or parroting the collective bombast.  But even if we try with all our puny might to opine the way Uncle Henry did last Thanksgiving…we really can’t.  I see it over and over at my writing retreats.  I put out a writing prompt, and ten minds go in ten directions.  Sometimes there are parallels, but even those are unique to the author.  It’s just not possible for me to think or speak or write like you, or vice the verse.

So how do you find your voice?  Maybe go mute.  Or mute-ish for a few days.  Make a conscious effort to take a beat before you speak.  If you’re not a big talker, let yourself off the hook and just listen.  The world will go on without our commentary.  We’re not going to lose our job or a loved one over a few lost words.  Tell them you’re on vocal rest, if you must.  Don’t tell them why.  And use this time very intentionally to write down your observations.  Then, turn them into powerful questions that you answer on the page for your eyes only.  Notice what you have to say and how you have to say it, without any pressure.  You might be surprised.  Now bring this back into your interactions with people (and if you’re a writer, in your work), and see if you feel more empowered.  See what your voice sounds like now.

Take away:  if you think you don’t have a voice, start with a powerful question.  (Notice that I began this essay with one.)  Answer it for yourself, in a journal, or on a walk when no one’s listening.  You have a voice.  No one can say what you have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Your job is to give yourself permission to believe that this is so.
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