This is the seventh in a series of guest posts: For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity. I also know how important it is for writers to write. To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share. Read these words. Consider this experience. Play around in curiosity and wonder. I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.
That’s what I’m doing. Quietly. For these weeks. Please think about taking this time for your heart language.
Haven by Maria Rodgers O’Rourke
Here’s the story of when I lugged a stack of notebooks across the country in the dead of winter, headed to Whitefish, Montana and the Haven Retreat.
I brought two of them (black and white composition books) to our first writing session. Like a kid at a new school, I hugged them tightly and tried to look confident. I left a Smash journal, filled with artsy-decorated blank pages, in my room. The cheap notebooks were for my first drafts, I thought: I’ll transfer my edited versions to the Smash later.
In our writing sessions, Laura welcomed us and our stories with open arms. My body relaxed into the daily writing routine, healthy meals, comfortable rooms, and the snow-covered grounds. My creative self snuggled into this haven space and took some risks. One afternoon, our yoga teacher asked, “So how’s it going?” and patiently waited for our response. The room held a small group of us, strangers just days before, and I felt safe. My heart in my throat, I blurted out that my golden retriever was dying, and sobbed. We cried and shared our stories of loss, lifting the grief that I dragged from home like so many notebooks.
With such healing going on, by the third day my writing sessions were producing real gems. Rough and honest, the drafts revealed my voice, stretching out like a bird opening its wings. That day I added the as-yet-unused Smash journal to my stack. After breakfast, we settled into our meeting room, which was awash in Montana winter sunshine, each window a postcard of evergreens on snowy hillsides. Sipping her tea, a fellow Haven-er noticed my notebooks. I explained about drafts and revisions and critiques, but my words trailed off as these once-hidden thoughts came into the light. I felt silly, but she smiled and said, “So, your first drafts aren’t worthy of the pretty pages?”
She nailed it. Turns out I only needed one notebook. The first draft is where the inner critic succeeds in dismissing a clever idea, or discouraging the hopeful writer, or quieting a fledging voice. To get out of our own way and get that first draft on paper is a victory. And they are worthy of pretty pages. All my Haven Retreat first drafts, clippings, and photos are secure in the Smash journal. When my creative self needs it, I flip through the pages and feel Laura’s embrace. At Haven, every first draft is beautiful.
Haven by Stephanie Maley
Writing was something I did for myself. Pages of self discovery, life experiences, and dreams, splattered flimsy journals. Now as a professional photographer, I knew I needed writing direction. Laura Munson’s words spoke to me in a personal way. After reading her book, “This Is Not The Story you Think It Is,” I felt connected. I knew I could learn from her. When she offered a writing retreat, I leapt at the chance to attend.
Short on trust and long on self doubt, I journeyed my way to Montana. Being at Haven was like bathing in warm light. From Laura’s squealing delight at meeting me, her faithful blog follower, until I boarded my plane for home, I felt loved and accepted. The attentive staff, vegan meals, snuggly down beds, and daily “love” mail from Laura, wrapped around me like a moth’s cocoon.
I took risks in this Haven. I shared secrets. Dressed in PJ’s, surrounded by my fellow retreatents and a hearty fire, I opened the pages of my heart. Words poured forth and bounced back with objective suggestions. Each of us reaching out to one another. My love of the power of words deepened. Story after story filled the smokey air. Raw, flesh- tearing, and humorous words kept us riveted.
Our group marches forward, together. We share our writings and seek advice from one another. Our private Facebook page keeps our connections strong. Some of us have been able to see each other beyond Montana. We cheer from the sidelines for each other and keep the Haven spirit alive. When my own writing progress stutters, I am reminded that I am still loved and accepted.