Tag Archives: love

A Gift for You: let’s write our way through this

wellness

I went out to the front porch today, feeling so low. Worrying about the things that we’re all worrying about right now. Trying not to worry. Trying to focus on one breath after the next. Trying to feel my inner light. But still feeling darkness. Wanting to look into eyes, real eyes, of dear friends and family and neighbors, and also of people in India and Nigeria and all the faraway places who are worrying about exactly what I’m worrying about, and not just love and death—the usuals. But this stealth virus which has stopped the world. It was eerily quiet, the way Montana can be in winter, but not in springtime. And I went back inside, back to my bed, where I’ve been self-quarantining for almost a month.

My father always said, “People are the same everywhere.” I’ve made it one of my life’s central goals to see that this is true. I’ve said that you don’t have to look very far. It’s the guy helping you find fresh mint in the produce section. It’s the crossing guard and the way she looks at children as she’s holding up her sign. It’s the view through a window of someone looking through a window. I miss people. But I don’t want to have to turn on the news to see them. The images are too much. Not because it’s bloody gore like war as we’ve known it. But because there’s no visible enemy and so much pain and sickness and loss. It helps to look into an enemy’s eyes. To wonder how we are the same. To practice on those eyes– our love and our empathy, and yes our fear and anger. This one has no eyes.

We are all in our respective rooms, globally, wondering what comes next and if we have any power right now. I won’t list the myriad ways this virus is affecting our lives because it is too overwhelming and never have I felt how important one inhale, followed by one exhale, is…not for just sustenance, but for calm. I have never valued calm before. Not like this. I have valued creativity, and creativity values thought, and thought is dangerous right now because it goes too quickly into the future. And all the unknowns. Even writing this right now feels dangerous. And writing has never felt dangerous to me. The only writing that’s been coming out of me in these weeks has been very short phrases about very small things. Not ideas. Things. The holy mundane. I need to get back to journaling. I need to get back to that practice which I’ve lately abandoned for fear of my own thoughts.

It has been weeks of snow showers and rain showers. I’ve watched it through my bedroom window. I have been sleeping a lot, which isn’t always safe ground. Historically, my dreams are full of saving people from burning houses that I don’t even know but somehow I am responsible for them. All too often my dreams are full of total world upheaval with images that are so terrifying and exacting that I wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding, gasping for air. I don’t watch or read anything about the end of the world, as a rule. I know that my mind is too active and I don’t want to be scared or to put darkness into the world, even in my sleep. And yet it oozes into my dreams no matter how calm and settled I am before I shut my eyes. It’s been this way for years.

But lately, I have been dreaming of my deceased family members. We are walking in the radiant sunshine, everything bright green and sapphire blue and lit from within– and all of them so calm and joyful like nothing bad is happening in the world and nothing ever has and ever will. They are so totally free from fear, that I hardly recognize them. I come from people who worry. There is no worry. Their faces are soft and relaxed. Their bodies are easily taking step after step through sunny meadows and dappled forests. They say “Don’t worry. Everything is okay.” They say, “All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.”

I wake feeling so calm, breathing so easily and slowly. I’ve asked my friends if they have been having these dreams. It turns out that a lot of people are dreaming about their peaceful deceased loved ones right now. I guess it doesn’t surprise me. I figure, either they’re angels coming in to help us during this terrifying time. Or our subconscious doesn’t have room for nightmares, life being what it is. Carl Jung would know. All I know is that I need these dreams. I need my elders and their calm. They soothe my soul while I dream, and help me feel less isolated and worried when I wake. I open my eyes and I feel like it’s Christmas morning and everyone’s there and I am little and I am safe and the grown-ups aren’t going anywhere all day and everybody is going to be nice to each other. I get to sit in so many laps and no one’s going to make me take a nap or leave me to play alone so that they can do grown-up things. This day is like one big long hug.

But then consciousness takes over and all the habitual just-waking thoughts rush in: What day is it? Am I supposed to be somewhere? Am I late, am I prepared? And then I remember the calm from the dream and my loved-one’s gentle voices, “All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.” My mind has a fight in it: How do I make a living being still? But like my grandmother’s veiny, translucent, soft hand rests itself on mine, I have this overwhelming understanding that we must honor the feral fact that the world has stopped. And let the lessons come. We must learn these lessons.

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to stop for a long time. Just take some time to myself. To write. To be quiet. To be responsible for only me. But I’ve wracked my brain: How can I stop if the world keeps hammering away? Plus, that’s selfish anyway. The poet Rilke chooses these words to describe the practice of love in a relationship with oneself and others: hearkening and hammering. He means listening, noticing, allowing your senses to be open, and he means hard work on the self and hard work in the relationship. Maybe this is a time to create much space for hearkening. Because humanity can’t not hammer. We will hammer again. So lying in bed, I decide to let all of my thoughts of the future, all of my plans I’ve been hammering away at for years…suspend themselves in springtime sounds and senses. I decide that the hammering I do will be in what love I can give freely to help myself and others. I decide to let go of the future and to embrace this world event from my own small room in Montana. There is so much relief there that I catch myself smiling at the ceiling.

As with most of these days of snow and rain showers, it stops by late afternoon, and the sun comes out. I have been ignoring the sun’s call to come out and bask in it, instead trying to pick up the pieces, the shrapnel, from how this war has affected my life, as we are all doing right now. Trying to put the pieces back together into something that was or something new. Pivoting. Re-inventing. But my deceased loved ones are asking me to be still right now. For a time. Be still. Hearken.

So when the sun came out today, I went out to my porch and sat on the front stoop with a wool shawl wrapped around me up to my chin, and a thick blanket covering my legs and feet. And I closed my eyes and felt each breath, in and out, the sun on my face, warm and tingling, each breath, the gentle breeze, such fresh air. I sat there for a long time. Not sure how long, but long enough for the sun to move through trees and me to move to different places on my porch to stay in its glow. I felt still. And I felt happy. Moving with the sun, breath by breath.

Life reduced itself to one small gift for the senses after the next, but not too fast. Just in perfect time, by a perfect slow metronome.

The musky smell of my neighbors’ sheep riding the breeze through the woods.

A raven just overhead—the heft of the air in its glistening underwings.

A chickadee singing its spring my tree in a river birch, standing bastion after wintering over when most other songbirds leave.

But this…this…this was what I’ve missed. And I wouldn’t have heard it, felt it, looked into the eyes of it, if I hadn’t gone outside and sat down for a while in the sun.

I heard someone pounding a nail. It came across the valley and hit up against the ridge behind my house, and showered down on me in echo.

Someone is building something.

Someone has plans that they haven’t abandoned.

Or maybe they had a dream that they’d put away for a time. And now they’re dreaming it alive.

Someone is creating something.

Someone believes in the future.

So I came in. And I wrote this because I want you to hear the echo of that one hammer, on that one nail.

“All of your plans don’t matter right now. There’s nothing to do right now but be still.”

I’m going to add two more words, “And help.”

In this time of hearkening, and a different kind of hammering—maybe not at the rate we were before, but one nail by one nail…I feel that it is important to hearken for what we can give in the most simple way, from our most pure heart and skillset, to help others. I know that writing is a deeply powerful tool. I know how to use it in my life as a practice, a prayer, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life. I have said for years, “Writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.” We need to be writing, whether we are writers or not. We all have this tool. We know how to put our thoughts into words on a page. All we need is a pen, some paper, and an open heart. And our worry and our wonder. The hammer: the pen. The nail: the page. The heart: the listening, noticing, allowing, and yes, dreaming.

So for the next four Fridays at 4:00 pm, MST, and maybe beyond, I’m going to host a one hour FREE guided journal-writing session called So Now What Writing. I will continue leading Haven Writing Retreats, and The So Now What Workshops, and will be launching an extensive online writing course later this spring or when it feels right in light of our world upheaval. But for now, I want to give something to you at no cost, because I want this to be available to all who need it. Bring your kids. Bring your partners. Bring your elders. Bring you! We’ll sit “together” in my home in Montana and hearken and hammer together using the written word. We’ll focus on what we want to shed from the past. What we want to embrace right now. And what we want to create going forward. I’ll give you inspiring prompts and time to write, time to share (optional), and I’ll give you a practice that you can do on your own to help you get through this time.

We need this. I need this.  Again, “Writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness.” Let’s be well together.

Here’s the info for how to join me:
Fridays, 4:00-5:00 MST

Join Zoom Meeting

https://zoom.us/j/983992436?pwd=bnhISHlzNDk0dUplelNwRXBMK1l5UT09

Meeting ID: 983 992 436

Password: sonowwhat

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Off Script. Musings from my fear and my love

I’m going to go on for a while. So make some tea. We need to talk. I need to talk. You need to talk. We are off script. And our minds need to bend and move, just like our bodies do. This is not a time to edit ourselves. (Unless we’re being mean. Please don’t be mean.) It doesn’t help to say things like, “Well, someone else has it worse.” Or “My problems are small in comparison to…” No. Your problems matter. And we need to share them. All of it matters: whether you’re afraid of getting Covid-19, or if you’re afraid you’re going to lose every drop of savings in the stock market, or if you feel deeply alone and sorry for yourself, or if you’ve gone through all your mac and cheese and are pining away for sushi and feeling guilty about it, or if you’ve lost your job, or if you have no idea where your next paycheck will come from, or if your damn cable doesn’t work and you really need to watch Jimmy Fallon right now…because Jimmy Fallon is the only thing that makes you happy. Or if you don’t have any toilet paper and are staring at some old T-shirts you don’t like in a whole new way. ALL of it MATTERS! People: Let’s TALK! Normally I don’t answer comments on my blog, but I am now! COMMENT AWAY!

AND…there’s a special writing prompt at the end to help you. No photos to keep your attention. No promo. Just. This. I love you all. If you want to buy my book, you can find it. Please support indie bookstores.

Ok—here goes.

From my journal—two months ago. February, 2020 (very vulnerable so please…)

Stop the world. I want to get off.” For months I’ve been saying these words. Privately. I’m not sure why, really. It’s just a feeling I’ve been having. The world is going too fast and I try to go fast along with it like so many of us do. All of us small business owner/entrepreneurs feel it. Our financial security is dependent upon constantly thinking What can I create? What hasn’t been done that I could do powerfully and uniquely? What do people need that I know how to give? And how do I give it and stay genuine, but not give it all away for free, which is my tendency? How do I value what I have to give? Part of me just wants to throw in the towel and give it all away for free and start an artist’s commune on my land in Montana. The world needs to stop. Right. Like that’s going to happen. I don’t even watch dystopian stuff. It’s too scary. But man…how much longer can we go like this? Why can’t people watch birds. They know everything that we’re too blind to see. Or afraid to remember.

I try with all my might to walk it in integrity. But still it’s: click that, heart that, join this, comment here, hashtag this, don’t you dare hashtag that, share there, show up, be yourself, don’t worry, but oops worry because it’s too late, too wrong, off brand, off off off. Shit. I need help with my business. I’m in deep. I’m overwhelmed. Stop. Breathe. I got this. Buck up– I made my bed so I should be able to lie in it. Shame has no place here. Another deep breath. Own what there is to own. Look out the window. Try to find a bird. A tree. But…stop the world, I want to get off.

Why can’t we all slow the fuck down? Why do people think it’s romantic at best to pay attention to birds? When I try to remind them, why do they give me a weird look, the look I used to give my grandmother when I’d hop on my ten speed as a kid, hellbent for a long ride in the only freedom a twelve year old knows, and she’d look at me so dire and tell me to wear a hat or I’d catch my “death of cold.” She lived through the flu epidemic of 1918. We lost people. Why don’t people understand that the birds and the trees are speaking to each other, based on an innate knowing? It may be romantic but it’s also scientific. Romance and science aside, all I know is that I can’t keep going like this. It might look like I’m keeping up very very well, and for the most part…I am. But I feel this deep, impending doom. Like I’m chasing after something that doesn’t want to be chased after. Like it’s done holding the torch. Like I’m done holding the torch to keep track of it. Like we all just need to S.T.O.P. Like I might need to put on a hat, this death of cold being what it really might be. I can’t shake it. This feeling of the world needing to stop.

And then the other voice. The one that’s watched a lot of Ted Talks:

You are doing your best and you are doing good work on this planet. Give yourself a break. Just do one meaningful thing after the next and do it in the way that only you can. Don’t give up. And don’t compare yourself to others. You are on your own path. But you need to learn when to call it a day. It’s midnight. Time to stop. Time to read Mary Oliver so that you don’t forget about grace. You are dangerously close to forgetting about grace. If you keep working this hard…you just might altogether.

And then this other voice speaks—the one I’ve never been able to shake, even with a lot of therapy. The mean one:

What are you even doing, so frantically pushing all those buttons all day, anyway. You don’t even really know how to push all those buttons. Forget your brand. You’re a writer. You should sell everything and find some little shack somewhere and eat beans and rice and write books and that’s it. Your kids will be fine. They don’t need their family home. There are other good writing retreats out there. Time to rip up your business model and start again so that you can finish those books sitting there on your computer and in your heart. Gnawing away at you for not finishing them. Why don’t you create an online course?  Really good one. Not to replace Haven. But just to give yourself a break and to get some great content out there for people who don’t want to come to Montana.

Panic. Ish. I’m not good with panic. I don’t believe in it. And yet…

But…I love my Haven programs. They’ve changed so many lives. We need weeklong interludes from our lives! I can’t just stop. No way! And, I love leading them. I love those brave seekers. I get to help people find their words, find their intuition, find the connection to themselves and other kindreds that they long for, get un-stuck, come into rich self-acceptance. I love creating these small communities, group after group, and the large community it has become seven years in, and 1,000 people from all over the world. If it weren’t for those buttons I push all day, I wouldn’t be able to do this work. And…I love my home, and I love that my children have a safe, steady place in Montana, and that it’s our sanctuary. I’m not letting go of our sanctuary. Stop talking to me like that. Please. You’ll never win. I was put on earth to do this work.

And then the oldest voice I know…one from as far back as I can remember…a small, defeated, scared, stoic voice whispers, “Stop the world. I want to get off.”

This wasn’t a suicidal thought. Not at all. But it was a feeling of severe world-weariness.

In short, in the last few months, I was experiencing a level of anxiety that I’d never known before. I am usually a grounded human being, even in chaos. (Not great in an airplane stuck on the tarmac or in elevators…truth be told, but otherwise, yes. Grounded. Bring me a horse emergency in the mountains of Montana, and I’m your girl.) But I was at war with myself and our society in a way that was foreign to me, trying so hard to be grateful for the internet, because without it, how would I book my retreats, some of the most fulfilling work of my life, and without my retreats, how would I have any time to write because they are my main source of income? But on dark days, I would sit in my bed and stare out the window and wonder why a writer has to push buttons at all. Except the ones through which we tell our stories. And then I would just feel like an asshole. Because I lead a lucky life. I love my work. I love my incredible children. Still…again…I would catch myself whispering, “Stop the world. I want to get off.” I told precisely no one. Told myself it was self-indulgent. Just keep on keeping on.

But anxiety is new for me, and it was scary. I kept telling myself that it was because I was about to go on book tour and all that I’d invested in it in every way. Seven years of writing draft after draft of my novel, Willa’s Grove, and a year of planning the publicity for it, eighteen events in thirty days in eight cities and beyond. As any author knows, it’s a lot to go from creating this book with a beating heart, and then passing it around for people to scrutinize, fall in love with, reject altogether. And to do it from coast to coast, in person. Fortunately, I’m an extrovert and love being on the road. But even for an extrovert, writers are highly sensitive people. And it takes a spectrum of stamina to go from writer mode, to that person on the stage, to that person writing authentic, loving messages in books, and then on to the next city. I was ready for it. I believe in this novel with all my heart. I love its theme of community, especially during crossroads moments. I knew it would land in many hearts, and it was my job to be its tireless messenger. Also…having a published novel is my oldest dream. I was ready to prove myself as a novelist, and not only a memoirist. I was leaned in. And I was cranking! Zero anxiety. In the flow. I was watching the book come alive in people’s hearts from New York, to Boston, to Chicago, and Minneapolis. Ready for some of my favorite cities on earth: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and beyond.

And then it happened. The world stopped. And I took my book and went home. Asked a friend to buy beans and rice and some duct tape and whatever else felt important at the grocery store—too late for toilet paper…and drop it in my mailbox (because it’s a small town and who knows what I was exposed to on the road!), and spent the next day doing the acrobatics it takes to get two kids home from far and wide in a time when everyone was trying to do the same thing. They’re here. We’re here. The birds are back. I self-quarantined, and two weeks later, lockdown officially started yesterday in Montana. We are blessed that we can still roam around in the woods. And I feel so grateful that it’s spring, not winter.

Never did I dream that the theme of my new novel is what we’re all asking right now: So Now What. I walk the house, looking at my ancestors’ belongings that survived wars and pandemics and the Depression. I open their letters for wisdom and clues. “I knit you this sweater, but Papa doesn’t want me to send it to you for fear of the packaging infecting you with the Grippe. Please burn when you get it.”

How is this time in history any different from 1918? That’s what has us all shocked. How could we have been so clueless? Careless? What do the dolphins in Venice know? We’re asking them now. We’re asking the birds and trees. It’s no longer romance. Because for certain…turns out—we don’t know a lot, even scientifically. We’re still pushing our buttons, trying to keep a semblance of what was just weeks ago. But suddenly we are evermore clear that if those buttons stop working…we really will have to know what it is to truly stop. And we can pretend that would never happen. Or we can get real. Radically real. Do you know where your waste goes when you flush your toilet? Do you know where your water comes from? Do you know the person who lives in the apartment above yours? Have you called your neighbors to see if they need bread? Have you asked them if they have an extra egg or two? Have you bought seeds? Or are you still complaining about toilet paper?

The world has stopped. So Now What.

I just keep looking at birds. And trees. I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to live on land in Montana. But even out your window, I bet you can see a bird. Or a tree. Somewhere. It’s time we drop to our knees and bow to the thing we call “nature.” There’s a scene toward the end of “Willa’s Grove” when one of the characters talks about how connected with herself she feels, having spent a week in Montana. She worries how she’s going to bring this feeling back to her suburban/urban life. And Willa says to her, “Jane. You are nature.” Never before have I felt more desperate to convey this message. It’s time we stop thinking that nature is separate from us. We don’t go “out in nature.” We are nature. We are nature in an elevator and in an airplane. We are nature right where we are, whether standing on a rug in our living room, or a concrete sidewalk, or climbing a tree, or standing in a field of migrating snow geese. We. Are. Nature.

We are also one organism. That’s another part of “Willa’s Grove” that I love, and why it has its title. Willa points out that a grove of aspen trees is one organism. By the end, these four women vibe like one organism. It’s undeniable and they are deeply schooled by it. But it’s more than just a grove of aspens. We are all one organism. The world stopped and we’d be absolutely dead inside if we were to refuse this reality right now. Never before has the whole world united against the same “enemy.” How is this not the most massive opportunity in our civilization? Let’s take it! We must!

So what are we going to do with it? Are we going to let our children play X-box for hours on end until this pandemic is over? Are we not going to gather at the kitchen table and talk about our fears that it will be a long time before it’s over with more lost lives than we can imagine, including our own? If all the buttons stop working…are we going to just keep pushing them, because they used to work, and they should work, shouldn’t they– so that we don’t have to feel what there is to feel? There is so much to feel. Now is the time for deep feeling. And the most honest living that we’ve ever/never imagined.

Writers, highly sensitive types, always feel what there is to feel. And that makes us unpopular sometimes. But in a time like this, people are looking up from their bubble of what has “promised” security, and realized…a bubble is easier to break than they were willing to admit. All it takes is one…sharp…needle. And this one…is sharp. And exacting. Doesn’t matter what’s in your bank account. Or what letters you have after your name. If you’re a prince or a homeless person. We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. So…let’s like it. So we can beat it. Learn from it. Finally…be the change. I keep picturing Mother Nature dancing. And she’s saying, “Stop.”

I’m not going to get into stats or political blame because I’m not geared that way. All I know is that we’re in trouble. And we’ve been in trouble for a long time. And we stand an extraordinary chance of getting out of that trouble right now. Can we please make it count? Can we please talk? Can we please speak heart language? Can we honor authentic self-expression in the way we always should? In the way we knew how to as children? Can we blow the dust off of that old journal and get real with our fears? Whether we are in leadership positions or not, can we admit that we’re afraid? Can we stop saying stupid things to people we love like, “You’re not the only one this is happening to, you know.” Can we make room for each others’ stories and fears? I bring communities together for a living. But I’m “preaching to the choir” when I facilitate those communities. These people already value the importance of sharing their truth, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them. Now we ALL need to value the essential nature of sharing our truth, written or spoken.

At the end of “Willa’s Grove” there is a letter to the reader which is a call to action for what I’m hoping will start a movement. It calls us to stop pretending and hiding and saying we’re fine when our hearts are bleeding inside. It calls us to step out of isolation and shame when our lives aren’t going the way we planned, and find safe circles of trust to speak our truth. A month ago, we were kids rolling our eyes at our grandmothers who were telling us to put on a hat for our bike ride, hopping on our ten speeds with all the open sidewalk ahead of us. Now we’re wrecked with a twisted pile of metal next to us, bleeding and cold and wishing someone would stop and help us get back home in time for dinner but ashamed to ask.

So I’m here to help. Not because I’ve never crashed my bike, and not because I didn’t crash my bike this morning when I opened my eyes and remembered that the world stopped and why. But because I’m willing to admit it to you. I’m willing to show you the bloody wound under the Band-aid. Please show me yours.

When I went out on book tour at the beginning of this month, so excited to share a book that I love profoundly with people across the US…I knew I needed a mantra. I used the mantra from my last book tour, because it worked then and that was a much harder tour because I starred as the main character. This time I was spreading news of the power of community, especially during So Now What moments in our lives.

I want to share it with you:

I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.

It was working beautifully from New York, to Boston, to Chicago, to Minneapolis…until we all knew that it was time to pack it up and go home. So many of us have had to pack up our dreams and go home. To do an overnight 180 and let go of all that we have saved for and planned for, so carefully, and for so long. And think about food and water and duct tape and whatever else holds our life together when we’re not pushing the almighty button and ignoring birds and trees. Suddenly grateful for getting the kids home. Suddenly grateful that we have a home…trying not to think how we’re going to pay our mortgage or our property taxes, or where our next paycheck is coming from, or or or. We’re not supposed to complain. We’re not supposed to worry. We’re not supposed to be pissed.

Well I can tell you right now, as someone who has devoted her life to self-expression, especially when it’s inconvenient or embarrassing…we need to be sharing how we really feel with those who will be kind and supportive and understanding. Choose carefully. But please…do choose.

So this morning, I changed my mantra. I figured I ought to go first before I ask others to do the same. Here it is:

I give myself permission to feel scared, desperate, and pissed. AND to surrender. Give up. Lie in bed lethargic. Not be a leader. Not help anyone. At least for this moment. I give myself permission to believe that in observing my true feelings, I may be opening myself to whatever needs to give itself to me. I give myself permission to believe: Maybe something miraculous is about to happen.

Something for you to do right now:

I want you to do this too. I want you to find a piece of paper somewhere and write down a few sentences. An honest love note to yourself, giving yourself permission to be right where you are. Keep it close to your bed. When you wake up tomorrow, write another one. Maybe it’s changed overnight. Or maybe it’s still true. You’ll know. This is the time for honesty, even if you loathe and despise your current feelings. Please…feel them.

We have an unprecedented opportunity right now as a civilization to honor the power of truth and self-expression.

To see that we are one organism.

To know at the center of our very being that…we are nature.

Watch the birds and trees.

They know.

And so do we. We just forgot.

We love each other. We love each other. We love each other.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

 

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So Now What: love from Laura, and the women of Willa’s Grove

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We’re all asking this question right now, globally: So Now What?

Life isn’t going as we planned, to say the least, due to COVID-19. So many of our labored-over plans have been derailed. We’re off script. We’re worried. We’re trying to find the balance between staying calm and being informed. We’re trying not to catastrophize. We’re trying not to complain. But we are in pain. And we need each other.

I’ve just been on book tour promoting my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” which we needed to cancel midway. The theme of the book is: So Now What. I never dreamed it would be so timely.

At the beginning of the book, four women receive an invitation. “You are invited to the rest of your life.” They receive this invitation because they are all at major crossroads moments, facing some version of So Now What. And instead of connecting with their daily communities, sharing their stories in order to figure out what’s next…they are all isolating. Becoming islands. It doesn’t have to be this way. I wrote “Willa’s Grove” to show the magic of what happens when people connect in a deliberate way, with what I’m calling a “bridge community,” outside their daily communities…so that they can more authentically and powerfully bridge to themselves and then back to their regular lives. Even though the novel isn’t about a writing retreat, it was inspired by the magic I’ve seen happen for now 1000 people who have come to my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana for the last eight years. People come together with the express intention of moving forward in their lives, and at Haven, writing is their way. In “Willa’s Grove,” it’s the spoken word. It’s no surprise that when we face the end of chapters in our lives, we wonder what’s next. But it is a surprise to many people that we are isolating because of it. And that’s because we are pretending that we’re okay when we’re not. And right now…we’re not okay. We need to stop pretending. We need to get real. Lovingly so.

As I crossed the country doing book talks and workshops, I paid attention to how So Now What is in our collective and I want to share it here. This was before we were talking about social distancing, and before schools, office buildings, whole cities, and countries were being shut down. I can only imagine how much more we are asking that question today, and will be asking it in the days to come. Hold on. I believe that what you’ll read below is good news.

I took a poll before I spoke at each event:

I asked:

“Raise your hand if you have ever faced a So Now What moment.”

Of course, everyone raised their hands.

Then I asked:

“Raise your hand if you, or someone you know, is asking So Now What right now?

At least half the room raised their hands.

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I asked them to look around.

“I want you to see that you are not alone. We need each other. We need to talk. We need to share our heart language. We need to help each other. But let’s be careful who we share our hearts with. What about creating bridge community? Temporary interludes from our lives with people who understand the precarious nature of the crossroads in which we stand.”

And then I asked people to call out what the major crossroads are for themselves or the people in their lives. And it was fascinating. Every single place I went (and I will hit the road again when it’s safe)…I heard the same So Now What’s.

These were at the top of the list:

Career change/failure

Empty Nest

Divorce

And I thought…how fascinating. No WONDER we’re isolating, hiding, pretending! We signed up for these things! We have kids to see them fledge. We choose a field of study to build a career out of it. We choose our spouses for the long haul.

Enter: shame.

Even for the So Now What’s that aren’t things we signed up for, like the death of a loved one, or caregiving for a parent with dementia, there’s still so often shame that we “should” be able to handle it. Or the shame that comes from Why me? It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I must have somehow caused it. And on and on. Just two weeks on the road…and I learned such a valuable lesson: So Now What is deeply linked to shame. But we can change that.

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I could feel the relief when I then asked them this: “Now ask yourself: are you, or the people you know in So Now What crossroads, isolating? Becoming islands. Pretending. Hiding.” And even though I asked them not to raise hands or say anything, I saw so many heads nodding. So many eyes closing with pain in their brow.

The women of “Willa’s Grove” have been doing just that. Push has come to shove, and Willa finally decides that she needs to call on a friend who she can trust, and who will find empathy for her So Now What. Why? Because she’s in her own crossroads. And they cook up the invitation, and the weeklong interlude—friend to friend to friend to friend. All of them converge in Willa’s farmhouse in Montana. They have those conversations. They bridge to each other, SO THAT they can more powerfully and authentically bridge back to their daily communities. I can’t say it enough: we need to say what’s truly on our hearts. Just to the people who will get it. It’s one of the very best ways I can imagine to bust through that shame and isolation!

To that end: I’m trying to start a movement of bridge communities. Weeklong respites from our lives. We’re starved for it. I saw it on the road. And I see it at Haven over and over again. These groups vibe HIGH, in radical and real communication. As one of the characters in “Willa’s Grove” says, “You know…we’re all fluent in this language of community. And yet we so rarely speak it. It really is our mother tongue.” On book tour, when I read my letter to the reader at the end of the book, calling people to action for this movement…audiences clapped. It’s a life-altering message and I’m honored to be one of its messengers.

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I was crushed to have to end the tour mid-way. So many more audiences and raised hands and raised awareness and knowing nods. So much more RELIEF in people’s eyes. “I needed this so badly. I didn’t realize how much shame I’m in and how I’ve become an island. I’m SO going to host one of these So Now What weeks!” It was such sweet music to my ears because since the book just came out in early March, I hadn’t really seen its message doing its work yet. I was hopeful, but authors never know if their book will land where they hope it will land. But after my very first event, I knew that my instincts were correct in writing this book: We’ve forgotten how badly we need each other. We’ve forgotten how to have those conversations we need to be having. We’ve forgotten how to make space for them and honor them as one of the most important things we can be doing in the realm of self-care.

And now…here we are. In a different kind of isolation, globally. We have to be for a while. Who knows how long. Stocking up and tucking in and hopefully…connecting with our loved ones and strangers– still gathering, only virtually. I love the support and generosity I’m seeing online. I love the tearful conversations I’ve had on the phone, admitting what’s really on our hearts. I love that new social media support groups are popping up. I love that we are finding creative ways to hold each other.

Yes, we are off script. And yes, we need each other. The last line of the invitation that calls these women to Montana is this: “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Z8PU2RXvSWe76ytpufiE8g_thumb_7ed2So, I’m going to do my best to help in my own way.

Here’s how:

Watching: (I will be doing all of the below on my Facebook Laura Munson Author page. Please go there now and Like it so that you will be the first to learn of all of my offerings. We’re going to get creative, friends!) 

  • I’ll be sharing a special FB LIVE Virtual Book Tour Event, with readings and Q&A, special gifts, inspiration. I’m doing the first one this Thursday at 5:00 PST.
  • I have two videos from two of my Book Tour events and I’ll be sharing them on FB in the next weeks. These will be one hour events, and I will be on deck to answer questions throughout. I will be offering special gifts for these events as well. I will be posting the first one (filmed in New York City) on Sunday the 22nd at 11:00 PST. And then take you to Minneapolis for my second on Sunday the 29th at 11:00 PST for another hour. The excerpts vary, and so do the live questions. Join me for both!
  • Love from Montana: I’ll be posting regular live Facebook videos from my Montana home and land so I can share the peace and spaciousness of this place on earth with you. The birdsongs. The melting snow. My two sweet dogs playing in the yard so innocently. What I’m reading. What I’m cooking. What I’m feeling. Inspired thoughts that I hope will help us. I’ll also be reading from “Willa’s Grove,” and other books I love. Who doesn’t love to be read to?

Reading:

  • Now is a perfect time to hunker down with the women of “Willa’s Grove” and be transported to Montana. As the best-selling author, Julie Barton said in her blurb of my book, “It’s what my heart needed right now.”lrDnMbYJRPuQB7+Npw13xA_thumb_7d31
  • If you are in a book club reading “Willa’s Grove,” here are some book club questions. Happy to be “beamed in” virtually! Likely you’re doing your gatherings online too, so we’ll be talking heads together! Email me: laura@lauramunson.com for more info.

Listening:

Here’s the Audio version of “Willa’s Grove.” I love how this actress read these characters. She nailed it!

Recent Podcasts featuring “Willa’s Grove” and more…

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

The Women’s Eye

The Jen Weigel Show (Good info on the COVID-19 Virus in the 1st segment. I come in at the end.)

…And coming soon…

Learning: (and writing)

  • I’ll be hosting So Now What Webinars with writing prompts and opportunities to share.
  • I’ll be launching my online Haven Home mini and master Writing Course! HOURS of helpful writing theory and practice with gorgeous Montana scenery as your writing timer! I cannot WAIT to share it with you!

We’ll do this together online. And it will help us not feel so far away from each other.

With love to you all,

Laura (and the women of “Willa’s Grove”)

I’m still booking my 2020 Haven Writing Retreats! Holding hope that we can stop this virus by social distancing soon! Everybody– please give it your best! Stay in and read, share on social media, call your loved ones.

Haven 2020 Schedule:

May 6-10 (one spot left!!!)
June 10-14 (still room)
June 17-21 (still room)
September 16-20 (now booking)
September 23-27 (now booking)
October 28-November 1 (now booking)

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Spread Love (not viruses)

Willa's GroveI have letters from my family that go back to the 1918 flu epidemic. Many of them. And they all talk about the Grippe in a beautiful, dedicated, and terrified ink script:  “Dear, Son. I knitted you this sweater. Please wear it and your wool overclothes that Papa and I sent along last Christmas, as often as you can. Soak in Epsom salts if you feel a fever coming on. Also, after this comes to you, please burn the packaging. You know how much I worry about the Grippe. Let us know when you can come home. Love, Mother.”

Willa's Grove

So much fear. And rightfully so. The world lost many to it. We lost people to it. As my family often says, “We are cemetery people.” And we have stood at graves that ended in 1918. 1918, the year of my father’s birth. He had no memory of it. Only what his elders told him. Maybe that’s part of why he said over and over to me, “Do you know how lucky we are.”

Now, in 2020, I am on a national book tour during a pandemic that’s being compared to the flu epidemic of 1918. I’m traveling from coast to coast and in-between, and I am watching, worrying, wondering, loving, feeling all that there is to feel. And there’s a LOT to feel. I think we all know to wash our hands. But what about our fear? How do we wash that out of us?

Here’s what I’m seeing on the road, and it’s GOOD NEWS! I hope it lifts some of your fear and worry, and also gives you some good information in making your travel choices, and choices in general.

  • I’m seeing from NY, NJ, Boston, Chicago…and soon to MN, SF, PDX, Seattle, and LA…love. Kindness. Gentleness.
  • Everybody’s talking.
  • They’re looking up from their screens.
  • They’re wondering if they should be scared.
  • They’re wondering if they should touch each other.
  • They’re talking about how they shouldn’t touch each other.
  • They’re choosing in some cases not to touch each other.
  • They’re touching each other by talking.
  • They’re spreading love.
  • And hopefully not viruses. 

Willa's GrovePlease take care of yourself, especially if you are at all compromised health-wise. And please, if you are needing community and inspiration…come share in my events and workshops. They are intimate gatherings in intimate settings and people are showing up everywhere I’ve gone. We’ve had powerful experiences together all along the way. Come take a load off and share in the wisdom of “Willa’s Grove.” These are the conversations that we need to be having. All of my events are here: https://lauramunson.com/events/

And if you are needing to stay inside, curl up with some tea and my novel, or listen to some of my recent podcasts about “Willa’s Grove” and Haven Writing Retreats (below). I’ve also shared below a link to some Book Group questions. If you’re cloistering yourself, there’s always Zoom calls, etc. Please stay together in one way or another! I believe so deeply in the essential nature of intimate gatherings that invite real, raw, and truthful conversation.

Love,

Laura

Haven 2020 Schedule:

May 6-10 (one spot left!!!)
June 10-14 (still room)
June 17-21 (still room)
September 16-20 (now booking)
September 23-27 (now booking)
October 28-November 1 (now booking)

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Book Group Questions for “Willa’s Grove”

Recent Podcasts featuring “Willa’s Grove” and more…

The Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Terry McMillan

The Write Question

The Positive Mind

The Jen Weigel Show (Good info on the Corona Virus in the 1st segment. I come in at the end.)

WORKSHOP: Writing and the Art of Living Mindfully 

If you feel like you need the red woods and a weekend of mindfulness and writing to calm you…I’ll be leading a workshop with my friend Albert deSilver at the incredible 1440 in Santa Cruz…and there’s still room! To register click here!

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Mother’s Day

(as featured on BlogHer)

Give your mother, your daughter, yourSELF the gift of  a Haven Writing Retreat!  

Now Booking my fall retreats: 

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

The other day I was wondering about my great-grandmother and the land she came to Illinois to Homestead with her husband and eight kids.  I have a photograph of the family in my office, all seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug.  Mid 1800s.  She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass kicking.  If not, she’d just turn her boney Yankee shoulder to you and you would understand for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of disdain.  I wanted to know about my mothers. Especially this one.  I wanted to know what she was like outside this photo.  If she had a soft side.  I was wondering about the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont.  If she ever looked back.  And I was wondering about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana a hundred and fifty plus years later, along with a caned birds-eye maple chair…and if she’d like me to use them more often, or take care of them differently, or better yet, I wanted to know the story about them.  How she chose what she chose to make her covered wagon crossing from Vermont to Illinois.  I was wondering how I can serve her memory.  Mostly, I was wondering if I have her in me.  If I can look at my life like chapters instead of a tower of blocks that add up to some sort of art in the end.

So I called my mother.

My father is dead. This was his side of the family.  But my mother is the sort of person to marry it all—not just the man.  I’ve traipsed through cemeteries all over New England and Illinois with my mother in search of my ancestors’ resting places on both sides of the family.  She calls us “cemetery people.”  I never knew what that meant.  Now, in middle age, I think I do.  It means that we hold our deceased in story and artifacts and we don’t let them go.  We firmly believe that we need them.  We believe that they are in our lives holding us from a mystic zone that might be called Heaven.  (We are also Heaven people.)  My mother actually prays for our deceased ones.  And asks them to protect us.  Like we go God both ways.

“They left in a covered wagon for central Illinois because the land was rich and they didn’t rotate their crops in Vermont so the soil wasn’t any good,” she rattles off like a memorized soliloquy from the phone between bridge and altar guild.  “I have some of their letters if you want me to Xerox them and send them to you.”

And suddenly I am in a panic.  She’s in her 80s.  She’s vibrant and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore.

“They thought I could do no wrong.”

Suddenly, I am imagining that day for myself and I dread it.  It will be a claustrophobic feeling:  I need my mother.  She’s not here.  There is quite possibly no one who has the answer to my question left on earth.  There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little story or my little panic or my little woe.  Who do I call?  A friend?  It would sound too needy or too braggadocio.  A child?  Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.  After your parents pass…who is strong for you?

I called her the other day to find out about my great-grandmother, and ended up learning all about my mother.  I asked her questions instead of just monologuing about my life and my victories and problems.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall hotel.  “The Water Tower.  I believed it was my fairy princess castle.”  There is a newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline.  “Virginia Aldrich has the City of Chicago in the palm of her hand.”  I always loved that my mother was such a beauty.  I haven’t told her that.  There is so much I haven’t told her.  (And I have to add here that when I asked her to send me a photo of her as a young woman…without letting her know what it was for…on top of the fact that she was packing to go to a fundrasier in Washington, she sent me this LOVELY photo of herself.  She is so loyal that she took the time in her nightie which you can see reflected, to do this for me, having no idea what I’m up to.  You can see it in the reflection and that is such a metaphor for who she is to me.  May we all have mothers like this.  Busy, in our nighties, who pull through in the eleventh hour for our daughters and sons…)

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.

I love that you are a flirt.

I love that you have a big laugh.

I love that you love to skip.  I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.

That’s Mom in the bottom left!

I love that you love Gran Marnier soufflé.

I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.

I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in Guys and Dolls and The Fantastiks.  That would
not have happened without you.  Dad wouldn’t have made that effort.

I love that you always make the effort.

I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.

I love that you read every single thing I write and I love knowing that you will read this.

I love that you told me to go to Italy for my junior year in college instead of Vienna.  I loved that you cried about it, knowing what cloth I am cut from.

I love that you go to church.  That you value community service and volunteer endlessly.

I love that you have your own business and are good at what you do.

I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.

I love that you don’t watch a lot of TV.

I love that you are a good friend to many.

I love that you aren’t wasteful.

I love that every single time I call you, and ask what you are doing, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing.  Which is always a lot.

I love that you don’t “sit around and eat bon bons all day” and never would.

I love that you made us read aloud a Bible passage every night at dinner.

I love that you made us say Grace.

I love that you made us wear shoes at the table and learn where all the utensils are supposed to go and to say, “are you finished” instead of “are you done” and taught us to Remove from the right and Serve to the left.

I love that you made us take piano lessons.

I love that you were never late.  Never.  I am usually five minutes late.

I love that you sang to me and read me stories when I was little.

Where all the snapdragons and pansies and pink roses grew.

I love that you had me take horse-back riding lessons but told me that it would be too pressured a life if I got into competing in the horse world.  You were right.  I was not cut out for that kind of pressure.

I love that you framed my childhood art.

I love that you love pink roses and snapdragons and yellow pansies.  I love that you made little arrangements of them and put them on my bedside table.

I love that for someone who sure does know a lot of influential people, you aren’t a snob.

I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2017 that you wore in 1950.

I love that you love yourself.

I love that you love me.

At my hometown book signing– look how happy we are. Wow.

What a class act.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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What to say when someone dies

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Featured in Huffington Post and Thrive Global

Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

Click here for more info

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (still room)

October 24-28 (still room)

I’m re-posting this in honor of Haven Writing Retreat alum, Christine, who lost her husband Brian in an heroic, and tragic accident over spring break.  Our whole Haven community sends you love.

No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

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In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

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Haven 4 a.m. Christmas musing…

Haven (4)

Read the original post to this series here.

Nothing that I planned for this Christmas season happened.

And then everything that matters did.

I’m looking at empty nest this fall, and so Christmas at home with the kids, in all of our best traditions, feels especially important.  I keep saying I’m going to be fine in empty nest.  But this time of year, I cry easily anyway.  I’ve been a leaky faucet all December.  I’ve been cooking with my daughter, like I’m facing my death, teaching her every single recipe I know “for the record.”  I’ve been standing and chopping madly, so that I now have carpal tunnel and planter fasciitis.  From cooking?  Don’t athletes get that?  I’m a writer.  My carpals are used to my repetitive motion tapping keyboards.  I guess just not my knife moves.  And all this eating of all these “best of” meals has my stomach in knots.  So when we had a massive weather “event” this week, my kids took to the ski slopes, and I took to my bed, hanging my Santa cap on the Christmas traditions that would certainly carry us in these next days.

It happened, avalanche:

  • The family Christmas Eve party we’ve gone to for 25 years got cancelled.
  • The place where we’ve had Christmas Eve dinner for 25 years couldn’t fit us in.
  • My son announced that he has to work bussing tables Christmas Eve anyway.
  • Ditto the night of the family game/caroling party we always have.
  • All my daughter’s friends are home and vying for her attention.  And even if they wanted to let me hang out with them, I’m no fun at all.  Unless they want to lie on the couch and rub arnica salve into my feet and wrist, drink bone broth, and watch White Christmas and Holiday Inn over and over.  Can’t quite handle It’s a Wonderful Life.  I’ve had one too many George-Bailey-on-the-bridge moments in the last few months, and I’m sure, come Fall, there’ll be too many to count.  So…sing to me, Bing and Fred.
  • And so far none of the presents have arrived because according to the NBC Nightly News, UPS is “having a hard time,” (maybe they need Bing and Fred too).  And let’s not talk about the news.  It’s enough to make me want to curl into an egg nog coma through to New Years and beyond.  Or more like a bone broth coma.  Come to me, Clarence.

And then my friend had to cancel our annual Christmas shopping day with our friend, the Special Olympian, and all around lover-of-life and spreader-of-joy, Cedar Vance.  This is the sacred day when we shop for her mother’s gifts using a carefully planned-out, well-budgeted, Christmas list, but one that in no way can I pull off solo, especially with a limp and a stomach that sounds like it’s churning butter.  Let’s put it this way:  Cedar puts the drop in shop til’ you drop.

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She and her mom feed 30 head of horses twice a day on their Montana ranch, so she’s got…well…stamina.  It was no surprise to anyone that she took home a silver and almost a bronze from the Special Olympics World Winter games at Schladming, Austria last year in the Advanced Giant Slalom for downhill ski racing.  Cedar is a local hero in more ways than one.  She has friends everywhere, and makes them wherever she goes.  It’s like she’s in a constant parade when she’s out in the world.  The more people the better.  The more shiny glittery sugary things, the better.  And so yep– you guessed it:  she loves the big box stores.  I, on the other hand, loathe box stores.  Every year I try to convince her to support the mom and pops on Central Ave. in our little town, but she looks at me like I’m sooooo uncool, and so I give in to the box store pre-amble, and ply her with hot cocoa back in town at the end so I can decompress in our little shops and Christmas bells and boughs that hang across the street like George Bailey’s Bedford Falls, officially shop-dropped.  She humors me, after her tour of Consumption Junction in all its…glory?

But Cedar isn’t about consumerism, per se.  She’s about spreading Christmas cheer.  Singing as absolutely loud as she can in the car on the way, to her favorite:  Alvin and the Chipmunk Christmas album, which is…after the third go-around of Christmas don’t be late… you know…pretty heart-warming, actually.  She’s got her Santa hat with the red Who-ville curlie-que on the top, and she loves to walk into every store saying a brisk, “Happy Merry Christmas!” and waving the Queen’s wave, which she’s done plenty of times because she’s been in about a hundred real life parades and got a kiss on the cheek from Mr. Shriver in the Special Olympics gala tour of Washington, D.C. before launching off to Austria, and, as she’ll tell you with absolutely no ego, received a hug from the Prince of Austria.  Because that’s the thing about Cedar.  She has no ego.  She’s free like I’ve never seen free before.  She rides bareback on horses I wouldn’t dare mount.  She flies down ski hills and hugs her way through Walmart (Cedar loves her some Walmart) on a hunt for her mother’s Christmas present, mentioning that they could also use a new fridge.  And I tell her, “That’s not on the list, my dear,” and she’s off, around the corner, holding a velvet pillow to her face and saying, “my mother would love this.”  And I have to say, “I’m sure she would but she asked for a microwave.”  And people look at me like I’m a bad person.  So into the shopping cart the velvet pillow goes.  And she’s holding a rose, of course, because the woman in the floral department at Costco gave it to her, after she’s eaten triple cream brie, red pepper jelly, and crackers, cornbread, short bread, pretzels, nachos, ham, roasted chicken, and asiago squares and more crackers, and she confesses that she’s allergic to cheese and gluten.  But she’s forgotten about that, because now she’s sure her mother needs a quick-dry hair towel, and I have to break the news that her mother has very short hair and probably would rather have warm socks for all the work she does outside in the bitter cold of winter, but she insists that her mom has plenty of socks and absolutely needs a quick-dry hair towel.  And so…into the cart goes the quick-dry hair towel.  And so it goes.  “Happy Merry Christmas, everyone!” she hollers, especially to people with Christmas sweaters on, and for those people, she includes a hug.  And the whole world melts around her.  Kinda like Eloise, only we’re so everly not at the Plaza, my dear.

So…we’re in the check-out line, our cart full of bags, ready to face the parking lot mayhem. We’ve crossed off everything on the list.  And we’ve even found a few special things we know her mother will just love.  Pony-tail holders, even.  We have three dollars and seventy-three cents left and Cedar’s holding it in one mitten-ed hand, the red rose in the other, and she’s smelling it like it smells like the Garden of Eden, when we all know that Costco red roses don’t smell like anything other than hot dogs and three ply radial tires.  And she says, “I’m going to keep this rose alive forever, just like in Beauty and the Beast, because of looooove.”  And I tell her that she can also dry the petals in case it doesn’t live forever, and she looks at me like I am the Grinch who stole Love incarnate, never mind Christmas.  And then…here’s where I shop ‘til I officially drop.  Drop to my knees:

We walk through the automatic doors pushing our heavy cart, and there’s a Salvation Army man standing there, ringing his bell, and the hanging red bucket hundreds of box store be-dazed shoppers have passed all day.  And Cedar stops at the bucket.  Puts the rose stem in her mouth, of course, because where else would you put it, and carefully folds the three dollar bills in a sort of Olympic origami, and slips them, one at a time, into the bucket.  And then the seventy-three cents.IMG_2870

“Aw…Cedar, that’s so good of you,” I start to say, but then I stop.  Because that Olympian goes over to the man in the Santa hat ringing the bell, and stands on her tip toes and he leans in, and she whispers something into his ear, and hands him the rose, and they hug each other for what seems like a long time…and she waves at him as he holds up the rose, and she says to everyone coming through the automatic doors pushing heavy shopping carts, “Happy Merry Christmas!” and we sing Alvin and the Chipmunks all the way home, as absolutely loud as we can.

“Cedar, what did you whisper to the Salvation Army man?” I say, over hot cocoa on Central Ave. with the red bells and boughs over our heads.

She looks at me churlishly, elf-ishly, loving-ly, and says, “Laura Munson, what do you think I said to him?  I told him Merry Christmas!”

Of course that’s what she said.  And I think…of course, Cedar Vance.  Of course it’s a Merry Christmas.

And then…wouldn’t you know…Christmas came, avalanche:

“We have a spot for you in the dining room on Christmas Eve.”  “We’re having our party after all.”  “I got my shift off, Mom, so let’s have our caroling party.  And on Christmas Eve, I’ll be home by 10:00 after work so we can have our open-one-gift tradition then.”  “There are a bunch of UPS boxes for you over at my house.  I’ll put them in your mail box.”  And guess what?  My stomach…it stopped hurting.  And my wrist and feet too.  Maybe there’ll be egg nog in my future after all.  And maybe next year, we’ll do it all over again.  And maybe when they return to the nest, their mother will be just fine.  Better than fine.  Maybe she’ll learn how to drop to her proverbial knees all the time in wonder and gratitude for the small moments of looooove.

Thank you, Cedar.  Wink wink, Clarence.

IMG_6127Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018
You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind! Come find your voice this February… For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!  The best holiday gift I can imagine… Click here for more info.

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We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016

IMG_0091Thanksgiving is here and families are assembling from all corners of the country.  And unless you come from a family I didn’t know existed, this year brings with it a new challenge, on top of the usual political, religious, sexual, gender, racial, and on and on differences.  This year all of us…ALL of us…experienced something that let’s be honest:  blew us away.  A business man is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America…and it has a lot of people…well, feeling pretty un-united.  This is problematic in too many ways to opine about now, plus I’m probably not smart enough to make any fetching points that haven’t already been made by people like David Remnick and Noam Chomsky.  (Now you know who I voted for.  And why my teenager says, I shouldn’t post this because when you talk about politics, you get “butt hurt” for it.)  I don’t even want to know what that means.  But I am sure:  we all need to find our Thanksgiving gratitude.  So…

I’m not here to talk about politics today.   I’m here to write about something I’m truly worried about for us as a nation:  How to make Thanksgiving work this year.  Really work.  Uh oh…I smell a top ten list coming on.  As you might have noticed, I loathe top ten lists.  But this year…we need to boil some sh** down.  So here goes.  No hate mail please.  I’m trying to help:

1)    Maybe don’t bring up politics or religion AT ALL, and I mean a total moratorium on both of them.  Like even in the family Grace and in the What I’m Grateful For thing.  Talk about the weather.  Talk about the gravy.  Talk about why you love the person sitting next to you.  Talk about the walk you’re going to take after the meal, and on the walk after the meal, don’t talk about anything other than the weather and why you love the person you’re walking with and what you’re going to buy on Black Friday, especially if it’s at your local independantly owned mom and pop shop.  Wait– stay off the homogenization of America theme.  Maybe go back to why you love the person walking next to you and call it good.

2)    Maybe, unless you’re from Cleveland, talk about the Cubs winning the World Series.  And if you are from Cleveland, talk about what a super bitching game it was all the way to the end.

3)    Maybe…be the artsy token weird aunt and say, “Why don’t we take a vow of silence during our meal, in honor of the Pilgrims and how they felt silenced enough to leave their country and fight for their religious freedom.”  Oops.  Axe that.  We’re not bringing up religion or politics, remember.  Or race relations.  Maybe just take a vow of silence.

4)    Maybe ask the host to give you a play by play break down of how she/he cooked the turkey.  If she/he brined…FABULOUS.  This will take up at least ½ an hour of the meal and the pride which he/she deserves will gush.  Gushing joy and pride is a good thing in the way of feeding loved ones.  Let’s raise the rafters on that!  (True to the holiday, we’re going for gratitude.)  If he/she deep fried the bird, you can compliment them on their rogue courage.  If she/he basted every half an hour and made their own giblet gravy, you can take deep bows and call them Martha Stewart.  If you need more content, you can ask them about their position on to stuff or not to stuff.IMG_0097

5)    Maybe play an after meal family game.  Like Pictionary.  Or Scattegories.  Just stay away from Celebrity Apprentice the Board Game, and Bridge.

6)    Maybe decide that this is the year where you truly will put your unconditional love barometer to the test.  Love them all.  Love them especially because they voted for someone you couldn’t stand.  Love them for their differences.  Love them for the conversation that is behind it all:  I need to believe in something.  Everyone is scared.  Voting shows hope.  And that’s what we want in the end:  a hopeful nation.

7)    If you are in grief over the election, find someone who is too and talk to them.  Do it privately in hushed tones.  Is stirring the pot, or even raging at a friend or family member (or some random innocent who was invited last minute) going to help anyone, especially you?

8)    If you are in victory over the election, see #7 and do the same.

9)    Maybe sing Kum-bah-yah and mean it.  It just means Come by Here, which is what you did in trusting sacred traditions and the community of family and friends.  Sing it loud.  Sing it proud.  Sing it because you have the freedom to sing in the first place, no matter who you did or didn’t vote for.  Maybe dust off your old Free to Be You and Me album and sing along!  (maybe skip William Has a Doll)

10) And ten…maybe have a dry Thanksgiving to keep the fight, the right, the wrong, the very ugly out of it.  Or heck, if you’re in MA, CA, OR, WA, NV, or CO, pass a joint around.  Oh wait.  Don’t talk about that either.  Stick to the “this is what I love about you” theme.

May we all enjoy peace this holiday season.  Let love and gratitude show us the way.


IMG_0093Peace and love, (and some humor for crying out loud)

Laura

Are you longing to say what you want to say?  Find your voice?  Haven Writing Retreats is now booking for 2018.  The gift of voice awaits you in the woods of Montana.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!

February 28-4 (a few spaces left)
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 3-7 & October 24-28

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Free Fall– An Encounter With an Owl Today

IMG_0039I saw this owl today in our meadow. I’ve lived in Montana for 25 years on this meadow. We don’t see owls during the day. We don’t see owls unless we are very lucky and unless we are paying attention.

I needed to pay attention today.

I was butting up against some things that had me blocked and I needed to stop. And learn. I’ve learned that the art of stopping has great balm. No screens. No talking. No finish line.

So I stopped.

And the owl stayed a long time.

I think it killed something in the field and was having dinner. I didn’t need to know much about it. I just needed to stop.

I didn’t realize that until I did. And a calm washed over me that I really needed. And that I really needed to remember.

I went home and wrote a few words. You don’t have to write all of it. A few words can unbreak your heart. Write. Please. It will help.

Here are a few of mine. Simple.

Journal:
What do we want?
How can we find our wholeness?
Our true purpose?
Our true nature?
Where is our fracture, and where are we in our own way?
How can we create our whole self?

Here’s how. We walk in the woods. Virtual or imagined or both. We go outside our comfort zone. That’s where life begins.

We jump

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We freefall

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We trust that we will land

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We meet with ground, connection, love. Never alone.

I want to meet you there with your words and stories. I have a beautiful retreat for you. I want to help you with that freefall and landing.

2016 (NOW BOOKING)
Haven Writing Retreats
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Dreams Can Come True

“We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live…”  Brian Donovan
900-0634-KELLYc_F3smThis film went straight to my core from the first frame.  Its creator, Brian Donovan, says it so perfectly:  “We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.”  If you can own this sentence in any way shape or form, this film and this Q&A with actor/film-maker Brian Donovan is for you:

Q:         I loved this film so much, Brian.  As a writer (and a film major in college), I’m curious to know what your writing/editing process was like? 

A:         Ha. Well, in the beginning if you came into my office and saw the giant mural I had created of characters, stories, conflict, etc…you probably would have sent me to therapy. My friend said it looked like a giant Rorschach Inkblot Test! It was dense with black Sharpie. I liken the whole process to what I imagine shaping clay for sculptors is like. You start with a mass and then shape and shape, and for awhile it still looks like a big lump of clay. But gradually (and for me ‘gradually’ meant years) it starts to look like something. And then you start to fine tune…everything! For filmmakers, it often means ‘killing your babies,’ which basically means a lot of wonderful footage, and even scenes that you’ve ‘shaped and shaped’ end up on the cutting room floor. It’s a brutal process, but all part of finding the true essence of what you’re trying to say in the leanest and most effective way possible. 

Q:         You ‘shaped’ for a while–seven years.  Why was it so important for you to see it through and tell this story?

A:         I didn’t know it was going to take seven years when I started! Haha. I was compelled to tell my sister’s story because I still feel like there’s lingering prejudice and misconceptions about the disabled. If you had seen my sister from afar or across the room, most would just label her disabled, or “Oh, she has Downs.” We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.

Q:         Boundaries, or lack thereof, are a big theme in the doc. Your relationship with your sister strained your other relationships, especially your romantic relationships.  In hindsight would you have done anything differently?

A:         I’d like to think I wouldn’t change a thing and don’t really believe in regret. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to my girlfriend’s needs, but at the time and throughout Kelly’s life, my sister was my priority. It was a sacred relationship cemented at childhood, and it never made sense for me to compromise that for a new relationship. It was a tricky thing to be sure, and finding the balance was nearly impossible until I met my now wife. 

Q:         What do you want people to take away from the film?

A:         We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live. And that dreams are important and should be honored and pursued with every fiber of your being. It not only gives our lives purpose, but it also creates a vibration in the world that is attractive and infectious if it’s pursued with good intention. And finally, to remember that our attitude is the only thing we can control in different circumstances–my mom’s attitude to bring my sister home from the hospital when the doctors advised her to institutionalize Kelly, my sister’s attitude that she was more than her disability, and my attitude that love is the greatest gift we have to give no matter what. Brian and Kelly

 NPR interview:

http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2015/07/30/43906/kelly-s-hollywood-a-dream-come-true-for-a-woman-wi/

 Link to stream movie (also via the doc website below):

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/kellyshollywood

BIO:

Brian Donovan has been a professional actor for over twenty-five years in film, television and radio. He’s worked on-screen with such luminaries as Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey and Jim Belushi. He’s been the voice of countless animated heroes — currently as Rock Lee from the juggernaut hit, Naruto. Next year, he can be seen in the indie film, Secrets of an Unborn Child.

In addition, Brian has been the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre since 1994, producing and directing over 50 inner-city high school workshops and live shows. He is also the creator, writer and producer of the Mighty Me Training Camp, a top ranking children’s self empowerment program streamed by Discovery Education. 

Brian lives in Los Angeles with his family and dog, Cosmo.

 

 

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