Tag Archives: memoir

My Happily Ever After: what I’ve learned from writing something that a lot of people read.

author_photos_heath 008You never really know where life will lead you, but if you live with pure intention and feed what you love with all your might, consistently and honestly…you might find yourself in places you’d never dreamed you’d go. 

That happened to me in 2009 when I published the essay version of a memoir I’d written in the New York Times Modern Love column.  The entry point was a marital crisis, but the book and the essay were not really about marriage.  They were about being responsible for your own well-being no matter what’s going on in your life.  They were about focusing on what you can control and letting go of the rest.  And they were about powerfully choosing to not play emotional victim to the things that others say and do to you.

The book (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is) became a New York Times and international best-seller, and that essay went viral.  Today, five years later, the essay is having a resurgence all over the internet and in The Week magazine where thousands of people have made comments, and over 200,000 people have shared it.  That number is increasing by thousands every hour.  (At this moment of writing, it’s at 214K.  When I finish this post, if it is going the direction it’s been going, we could be at 22K, and I write fast!)  It has been the top read article for days on The Week, sparking blog posts and ribald conversation on social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter and beyond. 

Normally, I don’t follow this sort of stuff.  I’m a writer and a mother and those things take up most of my time.  I’ve learned that media often manipulates the meaning of my message and unfortunately a lot of the press I’ve gotten spins my essay/book to make it about how a woman saves her marriage.  But it’s not about that.  It’s about saving yourself.  Turns out, people aren’t easily open to that message.  People are used to playing emotional victim, and society re-enforces that.  I see things another way, and when you offer new solutions, people oftentimes not only don’t want to hear them, they go on attack mode.  I don’t have much room for that.  I wrote that essay and that book to help myself process a difficult time in my life, and I wrote it to help others do the same.  It has helped people all over the world and when I wonder whatever possessed me to be the main character in a book (I normally write fiction), I take heart in the knowledge that I have been true to my author’s statement:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.  If I have helped one person out there, then it’s all worth it.  And I’ve heard from thousands of people who tell me my writing has done just that. 

I walked a line of integrity throughout the whole experience of book promotion, not exposing my family outside of their comfort zone, not naming names, and turning down major media when my gut told me that it wasn’t right.  And I mean MAJOR media.  My message never has been about staying in a relationship.  It’s about taking care of yourself and stepping outside of emotional suffering to do so.  Moment by moment.  Thought by thought.  Breath by breath.  Stepping into the most powerful question I know and that’s:  What can I create?  You don’t have to suffer, even under fierce rejection.  Even when your spouse says, “I don’t love you anymore.”  I’m here to tell you—this is the exact time to find the greatest emotional freedom of your life!  You don’t have to take that personally!  Nor do you have to take “You’re fired” personally.  Or “You’re a jerk” or “You didn’t win the prize.”  These are just words.  I’m not always good at it, but it’s a practice I’m dedicated to because it works.  It’s truth.  I own what there is to own, set boundaries for myself, and mind my own business.  It’s actually easy once we gain the self-awareness that it’s possible to choose our own happiness no matter what’s going on in our lives.  And that usually begins with getting in touch with our own self-talk.  Most of us speak to ourselves ten times worse than we’d speak to our enemies!

That’s new news to a lot of people and so now I find myself in the Wellness realm, speaking about the subject of non-suffering through self-awareness and creative self-expression at conferences and at my Haven Retreats, and I’m happily working on three books that have nothing to do with marriage.  I have moved on from that time in my life, and while the end of the essay and the book leave my marriage in a place of healing, that marriage needed to end, and it did.  Again, it was never about staying together.  It was about taking care of yourself in a time when society says that you should suffer greatly, fight, splay yourself supplicant.  I refused to do that.  I felt that it was his crisis, and my job was to focus on what I could control and let go of the rest, which included the outcome of my marriage.  I gave myself a stopping point.  And eventually we stopped.  And now we are divorced.  Amicably.  We are on to new chapters.  All the players are thriving.  And I’ve been given the opportunity to re-live the messages in my book/essay from a new angle.  They still apply and they are still lifelines.  And I can say that I know, without a doubt, that happiness is within.  I’ll leave it at that.

But in the light of this break-neck resurgence of that small essay I wrote what seems a lifetime ago, I am moved to respond to a few things that might help you wherever you are in your lives—in a crisis, post-crisis, free zone.  With the recent inundation of intimate, bleeding emails these last few days, for the most part about a painful marriage…thanking me for my essay on The Week, which indeed provided relief for people, and perhaps a new way of looking at life…I am moved to investigate this phenomena of the collective We. 

We are in pain. 

We are looking for hope. 

We are looking for empowering messages. 

We are looking for these things from every-day people. 

We want to know that We are not alone.

We want to re-invent our relationship with pain.

We want to know that to fight is not always the best way to win.

We want to know that the only real winning is in our ability to step outside of suffering and into emotional freedom.

We want to know that we can powerfully choose our emotions.

We want to know that no one can really make us mad or sad or feel guilty.  Or even happy.

We want to know that life is daily and that we don’t have to go to the top of the mountain to find enlightenment.  It’s right where we stand.  Even at our kitchen sink.

We want to feel connected to our loved ones, but sometimes the best way to connect is by stepping out of their way.

We have forgotten the power of deep breathing.  A long walk.  Candlelight.  A hot bath.  A singular flower in a vase on our nightstand.

We have forgotten that pain can be a terrific guide when we breathe into the groundlessness of it.

We have forgotten that life is about endless possibility.  And endless Yes.  And THAT’S where the real power lives.

Writing helps.  I have used my writing to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life since I was a child.  I did it in my published memoir and essay so many people have read, are re-reading, or  reading for the first time and sharing with their loved ones. 

It’s for precisely this reason that I started Haven Retreats which were recently listed in the top five in the country!  Now I help others dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page.  I invite you to write your way through the difficult times in your life.  You never know what might happen… 

One hour later.  219K shares.  We are 5,000 hungry for these messages and counting…

Note: As of June 4, 2014 there are now over 300,000 shares at The Week so it looks like we’re in this together!

Now booking Haven Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana. 

For more information email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

2014

September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

2015

February 25-March 1
June 3-7
June 17-21
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

 

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Lee and Me– Those We Love Most!

Lee Woodruff and me in NYC

I have found that writers are generous with one another.  We have to be.  Generally speaking, our families and friends think we’re half-a- bubble-off-level for devoting our lives to the written word, and our editors and agents and publicity people (if we have them) are so overworked and underpaid that we feel sort of guilty bugging them at all.  That leaves us with our characters, and sometimes they’re not so kind.  They tend to sneer when we’ve neglected them.  For instance, I’ve had a pair of lovers standing in a labyrinth in Tulum, Mexico for over a year, and by now they’re really really sunburned and dehydrated and they’re begging for a margharita…but oh no…their author is holding them to the small task of self-actualization, never mind finding the meaning of life.  Problem is, she can’t seem to find the time to breathe life into them these days.  And to add insult to injury, they live in a stack of dissheveled coffee-stained papers, topped off by bills and mouse turds, not to mention a layer of dust.  No, it’s writers who buoy writers.  We get each other.  We cut each other slack.  We connect each other.  We forgive each other.  We cut to the chase and we bleed easily with each other.  That is who Lee Woodruff has been to me.   Sister in words and heart.  Fairy god-mother of my muse.

I met Lee because she interviewed me for a Redbook piece when my memoir came out in 2009.  It was my first magazine interview and I answered the phone with my “business” voice, which was one cleared throat away from the way I talk to my golden retriever.  In other words, unimpressive.  A husky voice came through the phone:  ”Girlfriend!’  And I knew in that moment, we would become just that.  Friends.

I love Lee.  I love her honesty, her depth, her style, her self-deprecation, her wisdom, her willingness to connect kindred spirits, her drive, her compassion, her humility, her example as wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, community member, charity maven.  But most of all, I love that she talks about her dirty underwear.  Literally.  Any writer on tour knows what a precious commodity clean underwear is, and because you are living out of a tiny roller bag for weeks on end, it’s quite likely that you have, yes, some pretty skanky drawers.  Lee likes to open with that fact when she is the MC at womens’ conventions in front of thousands of nattily dressed professionals.  You’d never expect it, as this lovely, angelic, petite blonde in a twin set takes the stage.  I love her for this.  And so much more.  She’s one hell of a writer and one hell of a gal.

The first time I actually met her in person was at the end of my first book tour.  I was in New York, and the limo dropped me off at her house where we’d planned an afternoon together.   I had read in her book “Perfectly Imperfect” that after a tour, she gets out of the car, flings her rollerbag to the side (by the way, it’s red with pink hearts on it), drops to her knees, and kisses the ground.  Well, I did exactly that.  I was so happy to be at the front stoop of a writer sister who GETS IT.  Who would allow me to be puny and complaining and a miserable wreck for at least the time it takes to have a cup of coffee and get over my self.

She said, “Oh, my dear.  Come on in.   I’ll take care of you.”  No one does that on book tour.  You are the one delivering.  You are the one who supposedly knows something.  And somewhere in the sea of fans, old boyfriends, relatives, and scrutinizing potential readers…you hope you will find at least a teaspoon of grace in your time-zone-challenged, sleep-deprived, airplane-ozoned, out-of-shape poor excuse of a body.

I looked at her, in her T-shirt and shorts and bare feet, and just burst into tears, fell into her arms.

She knew it was triage time and she ushered me to an outside deck where we sat in Adirondack chairs and looked at Long Island Sound, cormorants diving, two authors being as raw and real as it gets.  No hair and make up.  Nothing eloquent to say or feel or share.  No audience member to comfort.  No message to get across or nasty question to field.  Just a gushing of understanding from someone who knows that the very thing that got you to this place, that keeps you balanced in your daily life…your sacred writing life…is in the crapper. You haven’t been that girl for weeks, or if you’ve gotten a book published recently, likely months.  You don’t recognize yourself.  You don’t really even like yourself.  You feel like a social media whore.  And you just plain miss your precious practice.

I’ll put it this way and hopefully it will help you understand:  The writing life ain’t for sissies.  It requires intense vulnerability and empathy almost to a fault.  Plus, it’s totally solitary.  Until it’s not.   And sometimes it’s weirdly full-frontal public.  Writers are ridiculously driven, nay obsessed with our craft.  Our writing is our lifeline and that means it can be blood sport.  No one asked us to do it, so we feel lead like Joan of Arc, but also sort of ashamed of the whole thing too.  Like, who do we think we are, anyway.  Writing books.  Thinking we have something that the world needs to hear.  Add to that pesky personality disorder, the fact that most of us are some sort of cross-section between being total wall-flowers, and the one wearing the lamp-shade, sometimes all in one fell swoop.  Think Hunter Thompson.  Think Fitzgerald.  Think Steven King.  In short, we’re whack jobs.  Our friends and families, and yes agents and editors too…all know this.  I had one publicist say, “I’m glad you said it, not us,” winking at her marketing buddy.

I like to think of writers like Lee and me as being only minor offenders in this regard.  We dress up nice.  We know our way around firm handshakes and eye contact.  We know not to chew gum.  And we’re not mean chicks.  Sure we both like to throw around the F bomb from time to time and who cares.  You would too if you spent most of your time channeling the human condition.

All this to say that I am starting a Lee Woodruff fan club and I’m the president.  So there.  If you have not read her three very different (this woman has range!) books, RUN to your local bookstore.  Get all three.  Put them on your bedside table.  Savor them with cups of tea and many pillows propping you up on back-to-back Sunday mornings.  She is an immediate friend on the page whether or not you are lucky enough to call her friend in real life.  Frankly, I think the page IS real life.  Realer than real.  So that means…we’re all in luck.

Now out in paperback!

Here’s a bit of what Lee has to say about the writing life and life in general.  Enjoy!

Click here to buy her fabulous novel, now out in paperback!

LM:  You’ve written a memoir, a book of essays, many interviews and featured articles, and now a novel. Which is your favorite genre and why? 

LW:  By far my fave is fiction.  It’s what I always thought I would do.  If you’d told me that my first two books would be best-selling memoirs, I would have chortled in your face. Notice a chortle and not a laugh-riot because chortle is such a cool thing to execute and type.  In memory you have to color in between the lines– you are playing with material that is real so you can’t stray too far from the facts– but with fiction– you make these characters out of clay and you can have them do anything really, so the artifice is to make it authentic, interesting and believable.

LM:  Which came most easily to you and why do you think that was so? 

LW:  Memoir came easily.  I think it’s from years of being a freelance writer and doing articles and essay pieces on family life.  I learned to know “where the line is” when writing about other people– namely my kids– who didn’t ask to have me as a mother, let alone a memoir-writing mom.  I have always enjoyed mining my own life and life as a parent to draw the parallels to other folks who have collectively experienced the same over-arching themes.

LM:  What did you learn from each about the written word? 

LW:  I learned that less is more.  Each book has taught me to be a more demanding editor of my own work and forced me to end up with a more minimalistic paragraph than the first draft would have suggested.  Memoir writing taught me that we don’t have to  go through life in a particular sequence nor should we feel compelled to include the every day, the mundane, or life in a linear world.

Perfectly Imperfect taught me to hone my funny bone a little and refine my every day sarcastic wit on the paper.  It helped me focus on how to make things funny- which is a big challenge when you are armed with only words to create a mental picture as well as dialogue.

Fiction taught me the balance between character development and dialogue– it also taught me that you may not have to like every character you write but you have to root for at least one.  The reader always wants to root for someone.

LM:  What did you learn from each about yourself? 

LW:  In an Instant— that I could write a book– a feat I’d always thought was only possible when the kids were out of the house and I had giant stretches of time

Perfectly Imperfect — that I love the essay genre and always will and that I have a good knack for knowing where to end things.

Those We Love Most — that I loved getting inside the character’s head and describing things far more than I like writing dialouge.  But real dialogue is tricky– it’s not easy to write the way people actually talk.

LM:  Do you think it’s important to consider your reader in constructing your writing? 

LW:  I do think so.  But I don’t write with the reader in mind. I think I EDIT with the reader in mind but when I first write the story I want to get it out of my head and onto the paper.  I want to see where the characters will take me and what will happen– I don’t start out with a firm outline and a precise idea of every little twist and turn– but at some point you need to consider how it will all hang together for the reader – and that was probably on my second or third pass through.

LM:  How was the editing process different from one genre to the next?

LW:  Memoir writing was so much more straight forward.  Editing the novel was much more like taking a serious scalpel to real plot and character parts, whereas editing the first two books was just about letting material go so the book would be tighter and move along.

LM:  What’s your next project?

LW:  Working on another (very rough) novel and I know it needs tons of work.  But I love/hate having a project.  Love it because it inspires me and makes me feel like I have a secret love– hate it because it’s alway sitting on my shoulder and I never have a regular period of time in which to write.  Someday — oh someday, I’ll put that empty nest to good use, but I’m not about to wish these years away!

THANK YOU, LEE!  oxoxoxoxoxoxoxox  Here’s the link to buy Lee’s books!

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The Breaking Point: An invitiation to share your stories


When you record your pain on the page and people read it…something happens. You tap into something that is bigger than your pain. Bigger than pain itself. You are in total truth and by being there…you actually begin a conversation with healing. You invite it to happen. You invite other people to heal by being totally unattached to their healing. You are simply telling your story and your story has power. Your truth has power. Healing power.

I was once at a funeral. A boy had died suddenly in our community, and we were all rocked by it. Most of us had never dealt with death. Maybe a grandfather. But not a peer. Not someone that everybody adored, who was right in the middle of his happy childhood. A family member got up to speak and just held his breath until he coughed tears. The minister went to him, put his hands on his shoulders, and said, “Thank you. You give us all permission.” The whole congregation wept then. I looked around at all those faces of my youth: teachers, schoolmates, store owners, mothers, fathers…everybody was weeping. We needed to weep. And we needed to weep together.

At the end of winter, I invite us to weep a little here. It will be a gathering of scenes from our most broken moments. What they felt like, smelled like, tasted like, looked like from the inside out. 400-600 words. You can include your name and any website link info if you want. Or you can be anonymous. Your truth might be another person’s relief, knowing that we are in this beautiful and heartbreaking life together. Your broken open moment might be another person’s permission to weep. And heal.

Send your stories to Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com and I’ll post according to your request to be named or not. This invitation will last until the first day of Spring. Aptly.
Yrs.
Laura

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A Book’s Life


This is a writer’s dream– to witness one of his or her books being or having been devoured. Dog-eared. Bloated from a bath-tub session. Coffee stains. Red wine stains. Tear stains.

Today I received this gift in the mail. It’s a photo of my book, loved and worn by a faithful reader. I really do believe that the book takes on a life of its own. I really do believe that ultimately it’s between the book and the reader.

People ask me all the time what it’s like to have written a memoir about something so deeply personal.  My answer is this:  if you write with compassion and responsibility, you can write about anything.  People are hungry for heart language.  People want to know they’re not alone.  That is a writer’s job.  This weekend I’ll be teaching a memoir writing workshop in Montana for the Authors of the Flathead.  The truth is, no one can really show you how to write your truth.  To me it’s about learning how to get out of your own way by asking powerful questions.  It’s about understanding the sacred space of creation.  You sit in your quiet room somewhere and you release the work with the intention that it will help someone out there.  That it will land in someone’s lap and heart.  That you will give them cause to pause.  Dog-ear.  Underline.  Join in the dance of the collective We.

So for all you writers out there, look deeply at this photo.  You are doing important work in the language of heart.  Your words matter.  Believe in your book.  It wants you to.

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The River


Paperback of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS coming in April to a bookstore near you!

As many of you may know from reading my book, I am keenly aware of my inner critic.  I didn’t used to be, but through years of feeling really bad about myself for not having career success and the subsequent pain and suffering from that way of relating with myself and the world…and then a few solid years in therapy and in other fields of self-work, I learned how to hear that inner critic, and I learned how to deal with her.

First, I named her.  I called her Sheila, and I don’t know why.  That’s just the name I chose.  And then I opened my ears and listened for her.  Shelia was LOUD.  And I realized that she was running my life, megaphone to my brain.  I heard her every time I looked into the mirror.  I heard her in most every one of my in-between times—driving to pick up the kids from school, lying in bed in the early morning, trying to get to sleep at night, working out, walking the dogs.  She was remarkably quiet, however, when I was in the act of creation.  When I was cooking, for instance, or gardening, or writing, or playing the guitar, or playing with my kids.  That was a place no one could touch, not even Sheila.  That was my sacred space.

I started to think about the power of the created moment, and I started to work with the idea that all our moments are created.  It’s not about just being occupied—lost in the pressures and obligations of the day.  It’s about being aware of the energy which drives us in the first place, deep within us, that must begin in self-love.  And it’s about powerfully choosing our thoughts and emotions rather than living into the lie that they control us.  We create them, after all.

For a while I wanted to exile Sheila.  Nail her into a pine box and send her off to Timbuktu never to be seen again.  If she died a violent death by shark, I didn’t care.  Good riddance.  But that didn’t work.  Not at all.  Because I had created her.  Sheila is me.  In wanting to exile her, I was declaring war against myself.  So I started to let her talk, the way you do a scared little girl.  And I realized she wasn’t even all that mean.  I had misunderstood her.  Kinda the way people misjudge a shy girl in high school for a mean girl.  I like to think that I was someone who knew the difference, then and now, and behaved accordingly.  So I gave Sheila that same gift of understanding.  I started to love her with maternal comfort.  And she got quiet.  I guess in a way, I loved her into submission.

Lately, she’s come back and she’s loud and she’s mean—doesn’t seem so shy, after all and she doesn’t seem to want a hug.  She wants blood this time.  It’s confusing and blind-siding.  She’s telling me all sorts of things that have to do with how wrong it is to have written a memoir and to be so vulnerable in public, and that I need to be on “my game” as if I’m playing a game in the first place.  Even now, she’s screaming at me to leave this to a journal entry, and not to post it on my blog.  Sheila is hollering:  chest your cardsYou need to be appropriateYou need to not embarrass yourself. Or anyone else for that matter. And maybe she’s right.  Who do I think I am?

A new friend sent me this today:

“Many of us feel uncomfortable revealing to others–and even to ourselves–what lies beneath the surface of our day-to-day consciousness. We get out of bed in the morning and begin again where we left off yesterday, attacking life as if we were waging a campaign of control and survival. All the while, deep within us, flows an endless river of pure energy. It sings a low and rich song that hints of joy and liberation and peace. Up on top, as we make our way through life, we may sense the presence of the river. We may feel a subtle longing to connect with it. But we are usually moving too fast, or we are distracted, or we fear disturbing the status quo of our surface thoughts and feelings. It can be unsettling to dip below the familiar and descend into the more mysterious realms of the soul.”

–Elizabeth Lesser from Broken Open

I was so thankful to read this, because it reminded me:  I have always known about that river.  I have created space for it in my life since I was a little girl and it especially fuels my writing.  I went to it and drank even when it looked strange to others.  Along the way, I learned that society does not want to consider the river.  It lies to us and tells us that the real river is experienced in occupying our minds with things we can control.  I have never had any tolerance for that, and I suppose it is no surprise that I have spent the last 17 years in Montana—a place which is all river.  Even when I try to deny the river, it pulls me to its side and asks me to drink.  To sit beside it.  To swim in it.  To swim in it on a horse and lift off its back, holding on to mane, riding it all.

I have been quiet for a long time in those waters.  Alone and yes, sometimes lonely.

And then one day a year or so ago, I took what I created in that sacred space of writing, and went out into the world with it.  It has been disorienting.  And it has been beautiful.  I have been afraid of what the world of a different river would have to say about my honesty.  Family.  Friends.  Institutions I’ve left.  And what I’ve found is that the human heart is hungry for truth.  It wants to be fed.  It wants to swim in its true river.  It needs to be reminded, wants to be reminded about the river.  But being a messenger of that is confusing and scary and full of Sheila telling me that I have no business doing this.  At all.  That I’m an imposter.  Or in it for the wrong reasons.  Or that I will fail in all my trying.

This morning, I woke to a new early spring-spun light.  5:00.  I couldn’t go back to sleep.  My heart was racing.  I am about to go back out on the road for my paperback’s book tour, (readings will be posted soon) and speak to many people about what I have learned from a time of crisis, how I have become aware of Sheila, how I have committed to the river.  And this, from a woman who has been writing fiction for all these years, not memoir.  Not life according to me.  My characters have full rights to speak, and to speak wisely.  But not me as the main character (so sayeth Shelia).  I have been pooling my personal power for so long, learning what it feels like in quiet creation.  Now to share it…is fraught.

But this quote reminds me of the mysteries of soul.  I have always loved mystery.  I find it holy.  I love reading the work of mystics from different religions because they are in the river finding love, not fear.  Maybe my problem is in trying.  Maybe the answer that Sheila needs is simply this:  get out of the way and let the river flow.

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Haven: Endings Bring Beginnings

Haven Newsletter January, 2011.

Sign up here to get Haven Newsletter delivered to your email doorstep. 

This month I am featuring the author, Susan Pohlman of the beautiful memoir Halfway to Each Other (Guidepostsbooks 2009) which is set in Italy during a time of transformation in her marriage and in herself.

Our Theme:  With Every Ending, There is a Beginning.

Windows by Laura Munson

Part of the beauty of having a published book is meeting other writers who have long been hard at work at your shared craft, swapping stories from what otherwise is a very insular, quiet life– except of course, during book promo. My new friend Susan Pohlman knows all about both. But more than that, she knows what it is to write a memoir about a rough time in her marriage. To have taken the very deliberate journey not only to move her family to Italy for a year in hopes of saving her marriage, but to have written through her pain and discovery in her wonderful memoir: Halfway to Each Other.

We spoke on the phone yesterday for almost two hours, and one of the things which sparked a host of sharing and collective understanding had to do with the notion of endings being beginnings. People ask me all the time how I could possibly not take my husband’s words, “I don’t love you anymore” personally. How I could keep from engaging the drama around those words, and how I could practice empathy and even forgiveness with him. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in this year of interviews and subsequent reflection. Yes, I loved this man. No, I did not believe he truly had run dry of love for me. Yes, I saw this as a crisis of his own soul brought on by years of career failure, fear, and desperation. But there’s another component of this that I have left out of most of my interviews, and which perhaps I’ve only just now landed upon.

In that moment when he made that heartbreaking proclamation, I felt a deep sense of relief.  And even of gratitude.  He had come to the end of something.  And when we come to the end of something, that’s when things happen.  For good or bad.  That’s when there is a window in which change and healing can take place.  Susan and Tim had come to the end of their marriage as they knew it and they took a stand for it by changing their lives– selling their house, surrendering their belongings– going on an epic journey together with their children.  There are people who talk about that sort of drastic move.  And people who actually do it.  They did it, and it provided that window and that healing.

I didn’t want to be with a man who was telling himself inwardly that he didn’t love me anymore. When he spoke it, it gave us that window.  We healed through that time right here in our own home, but it was still a deliberate act he performed in speaking those words.  And a deliberate act on my part to give him the space he needed to work through his crisis.  It might seem cowardly or cruel of him to utter those words, but I never viewed it like that.  He was putting the end to a stage of our marriage that no longer fed him.  And in that act, he found a renewed love.  When I told him that I didn’t buy it—that I really felt this was about his relationship with himself and that he was transferring his own feelings toward himself onto me, he could have said, “Nope.  I don’t care what you think. I’m out of here.”  But he didn’t.  He saw the window.

Where are the endings and beginnings in your life?  Where are the windows and what would happen if you opened them and took in that first breath of transformation?  Please enjoy this insightful essay by Susan Pohlman, and feel free to share your own stories and questions. We will both be here to read and reply. Yrs. Laura

Marriage in Tough Times
Letting go by Susan Pohlman

Writers need other writers. We are called to the same tribe on this lovely planet, scribes who have been given the exquisite burden of capturing the human condition in all of its glories and shames on paper. We can’t help ourselves. Sometimes our stories are thrust into the general consciousness of society, and sometimes they sit quietly in drawers and upon shelves waiting to be summoned.

Our genres connect us. It is a thrill for me to find another writer who is inspired by similar truths. Like hikers who have traversed an unexplored canyon from opposite sides, we have arrived at the same meadow. Sitting down to talk of our journeys is one of the experiences that makes the long hours of pecking away at the computer well worth it.

I had the pleasure of chatting with one such writer, Laura Munson, author of This is Not The Story You Think It Is. What was supposed to be a quick phone call of introduction turned into a lengthy conversation that I will hold close. We shared our experiences of family life and why we chose to fight for our marriages rather than flee when bitter disillusionment came knocking on the door.

I loved her book. I loved that she held firm to her own core. Like the strong mast of a sail boat in a raging storm at sea, she did not break. Though she would endure conversations that no wife wants to hear and rejections that pierced her heart, she understood that there are times when a spouse’s words reflect the pain in his own soul, not hers. She was willing to give her husband time and space and did not internalize that decision as weakness. Rather, such choices exhibit great emotional and spiritual strength and a willingness to surrender to outcomes unknown. The exact qualities that marriage takes sometimes. It is familiar territory.

In May of 2003, while hosting a business trip to Italy, my husband and I took a break from entertaining clients and walked along the Ligurian sea where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. The elegant beauty of Santa Margherita lulled us into silence as we ambled along, lost in our own thoughts. We had been married eighteen years, had two beautiful children, and a cozy home on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside we were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither one of us could figure out (and trust me, we tried every avenue known to man) why we had become so miserable and lonely together. I knew that our days were numbered since I had quietly, and with paralyzing despair, hired a lawyer prior to our trip. What I did not know was that a mere five minutes in the future my husband, Tim, would utter the phrase that would open a window for us, and change our lives forever. He stopped, asked me to move my empty gaze from the blue of the sea to the blue of his tear filled eyes and said, “I could live here.”

These four simple words began a gut wrenching, two day conversation that ended with our signatures on a year’s lease to an apartment in Genoa-Nervi. Tim would quit his job, we would sell our house, and move our family to Italy. We would choose to regard our past eighteen years together with reverence even though our emotions were roiling below the surface heated by years of accumulated hurts and disappointments. We would start over. Maintaining the sanctity of our family, we decided, was worth trying. It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives.

Two months later we were living in Italy. Our children, Katie (14) and Matt (11) were doubtful and fearful at first, but as we slowly slipped out of the constraints of our fast-paced Los Angeles lifestyle, we found something far sweeter. We traded in the American Dream for a dream of our own as we slowly realized that our lifestyle in Los Angeles had started, at some unknown point, to work in opposition to the values we held dear. A fine line that we had failed to notice as we ran across it, to-do lists in clenched fists.

By drastically simplifying our lives, struggling to learn a foreign language and navigating our new Italian village lifestyle, we learned what it felt like to be a family again. The challenge put us all back on the same side of the fence. Teamwork and active problem solving in a new culture provided opportunities for intimacy and abundant humor. It was both therapeutic and exhilarating.

We realized that over planning our family’s life had stifled the excitement of discovery. Dawn to midnight schedules that had filled each day extinguished any possibility of happenstance. Letting go of shoulds and musts and adopting an attitude of “let’s see where this takes us” allowed for the rebirth of enchantment and delight, two important elements that feed one’s soul. Adventure became a surprisingly powerful and restorative way of life. It forced us to live in the moment and be present for each other.

The experience was beyond our wildest imaginings and taught me many things. Some are the same truths that Laura and I shared on our phone call. Besides the fact that we both found Italy to be the land of enchantment, we agreed that sometimes beginnings are disguised as endings. That relationships are not a destination but about transformation, and if we choose to see the closing of a chapter for what it is, it doesn’t have to destroy the family.

The ending may be the end of a dream, the end of a career, the end of a lifestyle, or the realization that reality doesn’t quite match what we always thought our lives would look like. And that ending might be messy. It might throw the family off its axis as it hurls tough words and inconvenient truths across the very room where your first child was conceived. But endings end, too. And that’s where the magic can happen if we open our hearts to possibility and unforeseen circumstance that may decide to just lay its beautiful self before us like a furnished apartment overlooking the Ligurian Sea.

Endings and beginnings are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, especially when the stakes are great and we are deeply hurting, the only thing that keeps us from flipping the coin over is fear. It is important that, as couples, we cultivate courage and embrace the whole of marriage. Appreciating that the good times allow for celebration and the tough times offer unimaginable opportunity for growth.

Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer living in Scottsdale, AZ. Her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, AZ Parenting and Italiannotebook.com.

She has written three, award-winning short films. The Toast received two awards in the 2008 TIVA-DC Peer Awards, and Here,There, and Everywhere received awards in four categories in the 2009 TIVA-DC Peer Awards. The Misadventures of Matilda Mench won best screenplay in the 2010 Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project and the 2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award for best Independent Fiction Short.

Halfway to Each Other is her first book and winner of the relationships category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It has been shortlisted for the Inspy Award.

You can reach Susan at: http://www.susanpohlman.com 

Blog: http://susanhpohlman.wordpress.com/

Twitter @susanpohlman

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The Agony of Submissions– One Writer's Rant

I write regularly for Author Magazine, which you should DEFINITELY check out if you’re a writer or if you love reading or if you love to listen/watch writers being interviewed. Here is my most recent piece. It’s about my relationship with submitting my work. Enjoy. Or feel my pain. Either one. I’d love to hear your own angle on the business side of the writing life. yrs. Laura

PIE by Laura Munson

Mostly, I’ve been a back door sort of submitter. I didn’t used to be. I used to march straight through the front door and send my stuff out shotgun. In fact, the very first story I wrote, I sent, wait for it…to the New Yorker. And when I got that first form rejection, I was stunned. I was twenty. I was a dreamer, not really a writer. And dreamers are a bit delusional. So I kept sending out that short story—Harpers, Esquire, every magazine I could think of, every literary review I found in the Harvard Square kiosk (we didn’t have the internet yet). Still rejection after rejection. After rejection. I had a bulletin board over my desk with a chart full of all my submissions written on butcher block paper. In the section which I’d entitled Y/N, there were so many N’s that I did that N some courtesy and elongated it to Nope. To this day it’s still Nope, only now I know how to make a spreadsheet on my computer. I sort of miss that bulletin board. It was so visceral, writing Nope in Sharpie on butcher’s block paper pinned up with thumb tacks.

Then I read somewhere—Hemingway On Writing or something like that, that you just had to write and write and write and stop trying to get published, and so I spent the next half of my life writing. I recoiled from submitting. I wrote some essays and stories, cast them off into the wind from time to time, and got down to work, ignoring the rejections as they came in—well, KIND of ignoring them. I stopped talking about being a writer. And I began living the writing life. I wrote so much that I used to imagine myself putting on a seatbelt at the beginning of my writing day. I’d feel that ghost seatbelt like amputees claim they feel their lost limb. I was obsessed. Novel after novel. Every so often I’d get my nerve up and query an agent but not really give it the old college try. Not if you want a letterman’s sweater and I did. Not if you’re playing to win. If you’re any good. And I even doubted that.

Then a successful published writer friend told me to look at it like a pie chart. Writing was the dream slice. But the rest was necessary if I ever wanted anybody to read what I spent all that time alone in a dark room tapping away about on my keyboard. And especially, if I ever wanted to get paid for it. “You’re getting a flat ass for nothing,” he said. And he was right. My ass was flattening and no one was reading my stuff and I wasn’t getting paid a dime. (And they wonder why writers drink.)

I didn’t think of the writing life as a pie chart. I wanted to write like I wanted to canter on a horse. In other words, I didn’t want to deal with the saddle soap and the de-wormer. Or the training. Or the walking and stopping and doing circles if things got hairy. And then I was in a hot tub in LA one day and it’s a long story but it lead to an agent who signed me on as a client but with one question: Why aren’t you published? I gave her the writer’s answer: I used to write out of anger, but now I write out of gratitude. But that wasn’t the whole story.

It had more to do with pride. Shame. Guilt, even. How could I have worked so hard and not gotten published to wide acclaim? That was my prayer, after all. Please let me be published to wide acclaim. Spoken to so many horizons on so many beaches. I wish a pelican had flown by or a humpback whale would have flapped a fin in my face and said, “You ain’t gonna git published if you don’t send your work out, sister.” And maybe they did. I was too busy begging and crying and kicking sand around to notice.

Oh how we get in our own way. Oh the fences we build. So here I am, with that flotsam-flung prayer answered, trying to imagine my writing life as the pie chart I guess it’s been after all, trying not just to think of the pie. It would be blackberry, by the way. Or maybe strawberry rhubarb. If you asked me what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I’d tell you about the three files that are open in the tool bar below this sentence: Submissions winter 2010, submissions letters, magazines. And what am I doing? Writing about it. I have a huge body of work after all these years and I’m overwhelmed by it. I feel like Old Mother Hubbard with a copy of the Fiske Guide to Colleges in her already full lap. I’ve made six cups of tea this morning. I’ve checked my email approximately—well, a LOT, that’s how much. I’ve researched Italian Rosetta Stone language dvds. I’ve bought a pair of boots.

Jonathan Franzen said at the recent Miami Book Fair where I had the honor of reading, that no good novel comes out of a computer attached to the internet. People smugly laughed, outing themselves. I smugly crossed my legs and arms: I don’t have this problem. I have trained myself in discipline. I can write under any conditions. I have never made excuses. I’ve completed 14 frigging novels, two memoirs, and I don’t know how many essays and short stories. Too many to count, though I’m considering giving it a whirl right now just to put off having to submit my work. I ABHOR submitting my work.

Even now, why? It’s not the probable rejection. It’s not the actual writing of the query letters—it’s writing after all and we all know how I feel about writing by now. It has something to do with why I never got above a B+ in math. I don’t like numbers. I don’t like pie charts. I don’t like doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to BE a business person. In other words, I’m completely immature. And I still believe that the rebel is free. I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

The artist can be and even must be, a business-person too. And that doesn’t mean you’re selling out. You’re creating the possibility of having your work be received by people. And that’s part of it. Still…it’s a pill I haven’t quite swallowed. I don’t have any problem submitting my books to my agent. But my little babies to glossy magazine editors and terrifying places like Granta or the Paris Review or…uck. I’d rather get a cavity filled. I’m not kidding. I want to get on my cow pony and canter. No, gallop. Instead, Dear editor. I have a few essays which I feel to be a match for your zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And those old questions clamor in my mind: why would they want to publish MY work in the first place? Haven’t I had enough therapy to know that I have self-worth issues? Doesn’t a New York Times bestselling book make me immune to these inner saboteur-esque questions? Apparently not.

Two cups of tea later: an epiphany occurs:

I find myself chortling. Fully entranced in my essay file on my computer, playing a game of cat and mouse. Or curser and mouse, if you will. (Aren’t I hysterical?) Asking a different kind of question– as if to a palm reader: where should this one go, oh wise curser? And then I start talking to my actual Word document files. Tell me where you want to go. Tell me where home is, little girl. I’ll give you a ride and a sandwich. Fly. Be free.

And shit starts happening. I start making a list. A fast one. The one about dog-sledding—Outside magazine of course. And…the one about the funeral in the forest, how ‘bout Tin House. And the one about the firefighter and the grizzly bear, what about Orion? And the one about my first child and the day she wanted to move her dollhouse out of her room…why not Parenting magazine? Or Ladies Home Journal. Or Woman’s Day? Or Redbook? Suddenly, no glossy mag seems too grandiose. What’s a magazine without its writers? As my literary hero once told me, “Someone has to get published and why can’t it be you?” Yeah. Like Harrison said. Why not me?

So after seven hours of diddling around like a child doing chores, in a half an hour, I’d submitted eleven pieces. All by listening to my work and its voice—picturing the blow of its cannon and watching its trajectory in the sky, falling as it might.

And truth told, I want more. I think I’ll dedicate the whole week to this game, in fact. To this slice of pie. And when I’m through, I’ll have irons in the fire, while I tuck into the winter of 2010, and get back to work on the reason for the slices in the first place: the writing.

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

Letter to a Young Blogger

Recently a blogger wrote to me asking for advice, feeling desperate and raw the way that every writer feels. I get a lot of letters, for which I am deeply thankful, and have learned that I have to be economic with my response time in a committment to finishing my current novel. I started writing her what I assumed would be a short but honest letter, hoping to find just the right words…and realized that what I had to share was an old fashioned, long, heart-in-the-hand, letter. And as I opened up to that and my words increased, more and more impassioned, I realized that I really was writing to myself and all writers everywhere. I’d like to share it with you, with her permission. And likewise, I’d like to share her response. Hope it helps. yrs. Laura

12/11/10

Dear, Nikki.

I know people don’t use “Dear” anymore in emails, but to you, from me, sisters in words, it is “dear.” Thank you for reaching out to me in your very candid and honest letter. It takes guts to reach out to published authors, especially when their work has touched you. I have a whole file of letters I’ve written over the years to my favorite author, but was too shy to send them to him. Finally one day I exploded in desperation and wrote 20 years of writer’s woe into a letter, and sent it to his editor thinking he’d never in a million years actually get it. But it felt somehow good just to know that I’d finally spoken my truth to the person I most respect in the literary world: and that was that I was terrified I’d never get published, that I knew I was a good writer and had written good books, and that I needed help. He emailed me a few weeks later. We ended up meeting for drinks that spring in a small border town in Arizona where I was camping with my family. We ended up becoming friends. And he ended up putting in a good word to his editor for me. The book deal fell apart anyway. Writers can’t really help writers get published. Even wickedly famous ones such as he. But we can share our feelings and we can make suggestions and we can help guide one another.

You said you weren’t sure why you wrote me, only that you were so ready to launch your career that you were afraid of being “Over done.” “Burnt to a crisp.” That’s to me a way of saying, “Help. In any way you can. Just help. I can’t be alone in this one more second.” A cry for help—not necessarily on-the-ledge kind of help, but maybe on the soul’s edge. And all you really want is an echo that says there was a meeting point out there in the world that heard you and bounced it back to you in a game of mystic catch. You’ve been witnessed. You are not alone. You’ve been met. I have some things I’d like to say about that and I hope it finds you, if nothing else, met.

I so deeply understand where you are in all this. Having so much work and wanting it to be read and wanting to be respected for it, and wanting to be paid for it. It feels so helpless and hopeless– like you’re working so hard to mine your life and bridge human hearts with honesty, empathy, compassion…and yet nobody really sees you or cares. Like you’ll somehow fall between the cracks. Any of this ring a bell? (sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but we writers need lifelines—basic full frontal flung floatation– and well-worn metaphors can sometimes feel like just that!) As you know, I’ve written many books that are not published. Not all good ones. And not all ones which I’ve submitted to my agent. In fact, I’ve really only submitted four or five, and she’s only shopped so far three of them. In three years of hard-at-it submissions, her New York City hardened fist to the pavement, only one of them got published. It was crushing.

I’d been told many times that getting an agent was harder than actually getting a book published, so when I finally landed mine, I had high hopes. Even in this economy. Even with the publishing industry in shambles. I still had hope because I had someone who believed in me even when I didn’t. After both books were considered seriously by two different big time editors, both of whom were willing to work with me on the sly to get my manuscripts in the best possible shape so they could come into their editorial staff meetings guns blazing…and after both were still in the end rejected, my agent decided she wouldn’t even send my work out any more. I needed a platform. I’d sent her my memoir, the one that just got published, the one that ended up on the New York Times bestseller list, and she said, “I’m sorry. I’m just not sending your work out. You’re too good of a writer to keep falling through the cracks. You need a platform.”

So there I was, feeling completely hopeless. Because wasn’t having a top notch New York agent in the first place, sitting on three polished and what I considered to be powerful manuscripts, proof enough of my writing moxie? How did a girl prove herself even more than that? “By getting into the New Yorker or the New York Times,” she said. Ugh. I’d tried that. I’d failed at that. I honestly had never felt more bereft. Never in 20 years have I had writer’s block, or faced a blank page without butterflies in my stomach. Never had I lost a lick of hope. That day, I got off the phone and put my head down on my computer, and wept. I really, for the first time, saw clearly that my career, at 42 years old, very well might never launch. The ship wouldn’t come in. I’d be bobbing in cold waters so tired of clutching that life preserver, that I finally might just let go, and become fish food. I felt myself, for the first time in my life, beginning to let go.

And something miraculous happened. In a flicker of a moment, sort of how they say that you see your life flash before you just before death, I had this deep warm feeling of knowing. I’d write the short version of my memoir, the one my agent wasn’t going to shop, and I’d send it to the New York Times Modern Love column. I’d just had two rejections from them in tandem the week prior. At least I was fresh in the editor’s mind. So in an hour, I wrote the essay. It flowed out the way I suppose one’s last breath flows. One long rattle. And I sent it, left the house to pick up the kids, and forgot about it. That was going to be the way things went from now on. I would have to train myself to forget about it. To take the future out of my brain and heart. I didn’t know what that meant. Would I stop writing? I couldn’t fathom that death, so I let it go. And it was just me alone in that sea. The alternative was to thrash. And I couldn’t do that any longer. I was too tired of thrashing.

The next morning, I got an email: “This one, we’re going to take.” It was from the editor of the Modern Love column. And you probably know the rest of the story. That essay was the number one most read article on The New York Times website for weeks. The responses crashed the site. It went viral all over the world. I heard from ministers, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers…you name it. People wanted to hear that particular message which was simple but hard to apply, especially to a marital crisis, which was my essay’s entry point. The message was: you can find freedom in crisis by focusing on the present moment, getting rid of the destructive voices in our heads that have us reacting in a place of fear, to love those voices into submission, to take responsibility for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life. To let go and just be with the pain of life, using the pain of life, breathing through the pain of life. Simple. I’d applied this philosophy to my marriage, and now I was finally applying it to my writing life. And that’s when everything happened.

Now, a year later, I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning in December with my husband and children skiing, trying to work on a novel. I’d like a novel to be published next. I worry about being pigeon-holed as a memoirist. It’s the novel that is my deep love; the craft at which I’ve been “hearkening and hammering,” as Rilke said (who wrote his own “dear” letters to another writer), for all these years. And I find myself putting this philosophy to play all over again. My inner voice wants me jumping through hoops and walking across coals. The dread blank page. The likelihood of a novel getting published in this industry. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it was just a rogue nerve that I hit the way my anesthesiologist did when he was giving me my epidural before my cesarean. “I’ve hardly ever done that,” he said. And like you, I’m asking those old questions: what if this really is just my three minutes. And the clock is ticking. Never mind the simple fact that we need money, badly. To keep our house. To regain health insurance and life insurance and pay our bills after years of career failure. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to pay for Christmas this year. And the kids with such long lists.

I think that the single most dashing aspect of being a writer is feeling so alone. So the help I can give you is not the lifeline, but the simple act of catching the echo, your voice to mine, mine to yours. Even though my book has been more successful than I ever dreamed as I sat here at this desk a few summers ago writing my way through a hard time in my life, not even all that sure that I’d one day submit it to my agent…I still face what you face. The loneliness, the fear, the sinking hope. I wasn’t sure my marriage would make it through that crisis and I wasn’t going to give it an even larger burden if in fact it did. But I wrote with all the compassion and honesty I could, responsible to a rule I made to myself and that was: not to vilify my husband. Not to play victim. Not to expose things beyond what felt necessary to the memoir. In the end, my agent sent out the book. In the end I got that long awaited book deal. The book tour. The national television. The NPR interviews. The positive reviews. The fans. The pay check. The New York Times bestseller list. The opportunity to have written something that is helping people. All the things I’d dreamed of.

And here I am, having spent a year of my life running around creation talking to people about that book and that time in my life, trying so hard to give people hope, especially writers. And I’m here to say that the whole reality of success is a myth. There is no real destination there. You’re just “seen and heard” that’s all. And it feels so good after feeling so unseen and unheard for so long. But it also feels disorienting and a little wrong. Like you’re really supposed to be back in that office, staring at the blank page, doing the work. Not being a travelling salesperson/social networking whore/motivational speaker. As another writer friend so perfectly put it a year ago, “Enjoy this initial bliss. In a matter of months, your cherry will be popped and you’ll realize that you are at the end of the day, not a writer, but a businesswoman, caught in a machine.” I didn’t want to believe that she was right. To a degree, she was. But no one can take away the writing. In that place, I completely trust myself. In that place, I am floating, surrendered, riding the waves, not thrashing, not a bit of future in me, watery dark ocean’s bottom or helicopter rescue.

So it’s my pleasure to respond to you and share what I’ve learned, having gone to the other side so suddenly this year. The “platform” I’ve wanted most of all is the one from which to help writers persevere. I’ve wanted this desperately for a long time. Somewhere along the line I turned around and realized that I was an expert on the subject of perseverance. I knew how to do one thing well: start books and finish them. Start essays and finish them. Start short stories and finish them. I wasn’t as good with submissions, and that was part of not yet wanting that “cherry” to be popped. Something deep in my psyche knew that I had to learn my craft. To understand that intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing. To build that body of work. And yes, now the business of it is upon me. I’m trying to look at it like a game rather than a tragedy about to happen. I’m trying to look at it as a numbers game, or a pie chart, or something simple and practical. I write something and I submit it to these three places and I forget about it. And if I do that on Monday and Tuesday, and spend Wednesday on blog posts and researching grants and residencies, then I have Thursday, Friday and part of the weekend to work on my novel. Simple. If I strip it down, moment by moment, and not get stuck under the miasma of “what if.”

As my favorite writer said to me at that bar in southern Arizona, “Somebody has to get published and why not you.” So I pass that on to you. You are not alone. And you are alone. And that’s not bad news. You are a part of a collective sisterhood and brotherhood of writers who trust themselves best at the intersection, otherwise why else would they put themselves through this writing life. All those blank pages. All that rejection. I wish for you, and for all of us, that flicker of a moment when we finally let go, and get to the depths of compassion, empathy, and yes craft…send off our work surrendered, and somewhere have it received, met, echoed back in e. e. cummings world of Yes. Yes is a world. May we know it as writers, first deep in ourselves. And then from the world.

I wish you all the very best, Nikki.

Yrs.

Laura

Here is her response:
Hi Laura,

The other day I tried to compose an email to you, and it was a challenge to even do this. I was unable to write anything, and then a couple days ago I woke up and realized why. My soul will not allow me write from the place of ego- you know that small, weak place of wanting to write for attention and following and publication and approval. There was a time I only wrote for me, and as I have moved out to share my writing and wanting to make a living from it, my ego perks up its head and pushes me with its demands. It is wonderful to realize I cannot write, at least well, for those reasons. I have to write for something deeper.

I am so glad I reached out to you, and again I thank you for your letter. It will be something I keep and read when I need that support. I am grateful it inspired a letter to all writers and I would be honored to have my name displayed. There is so much for us to learn within the writing process. Recently I began writing another blog dedicated to this and it helps, as you say, warm up for the writing day ahead.

Thank you for saying my blog is my platform. This brought such relief. And I am receiving more requests for potential money making with ads on my blog and like you I want to maintain integrity. As far as blogher, I signed on with them a couple of years ago. I have had a good experience with them. The only issue is when I change my blog design I have to make sure the ad is near the top. They have requirements of where the ad should be. I can’t remember how I signed up with them, but I am sure the site walks you through. I know you can choose what kind of advertising you want, and if there is a company you are opposed to, you can customize settings. There will be an html code to add and then it should appear. They will also share your posts, which helps get more people to your site.

Thank you, honestly for being the echo, and holding the space of my desperation. This, especially in these times, is essential. I, like you, hold our vulnerable moments the most sacred and we need people to hold that space for us, and honor it. We also need people to show us by their example we can persevere and do what we love. I think what was most valuable to me in your letter is knowing even with your success you have not arrived. I shared a story in my local paper- and it speaks to this- recently I climbed a steep mountain, at least for me coming from Minnesota, it was steep, and while I climbed I had moments of terror, where I just didn’t think I was going to make it, but what kept moving me forward was wanting to see the view from the top. I also wanted to know I could make it. When I arrived, there was not the breathtaking view I imagined or was there the path I had hoped for to bring me back down so I wouldn’t have to roll down the way I came up. Instead there was another climb ahead and these tiny flies buzzing around my head.

My dad shares this message with me- everywhere we go there is the Buddha and flies. I found both, and more ground to cover. I feel honored to walk into this possibility of success holding this knowledge. As you say success is not a destination. It is an illusion. Even you, with your best seller still goes to her writing space and climbs another mountain. And now you are stronger.

I do hope we will stay in touch. I, too wish you all the very best. We are here to express everything that is our potential- that world of “YES.” Isn’t it wonderful to know and experience, especially when shared.

Namaste, Laura.

Nikki

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Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Interview with Inspire Me Today Radio– one of my very favorites!

I had the pleasure of meeting an incredibly inspiring woman recently: Gail Goodwin. She is one of those people who is day by day changing the world. Today she is featuring me on her website Inspire Me Today. I’d love for you to check this website out because it is such an excellent example of how we can make the deliberate choice to better the world simply by shining a light on the positive. I am proud of this interview and I’m honored to share it with you here. I love Gail’s high road questions and maybe my answers will help with some of the questions you ask me at THESE HERE HILLS. Come join me at Inspire Me Today where you’ll find a short piece I wrote for them and a link to the radio interview mid-page. Please share with your friends. I really want this interview to help people. yrs. Laura

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The Raw World of Memoir

I hear from a lot of people who were particularly touched by the chapter in my book called “MY FATHER’S BLUE DUESENBURG.” It makes me think of all the people grieving their lost parents, and to that end, I thought I’d post a small piece I wrote a month after my father’s death, seven years ago. It was never meant to be published, but it was never quite meant for my journal either. People ask me about memoir and how it differs from fiction. They wonder if it’s crafted or if it’s just heart language. I think it’s the intersection of both. Fiction finds that intersection too, but memoir is a special bird. It’s the mind’s way to find the heart’s course. It begs for steerage. It wants pure truth. To me, memoir comes from this place I share with you below. It’s no small surprise that it ends in a prayer. Maybe that’s what memoir is: a prayer.

Remember the Virgin Islands? On the catamaran, with Mom and Dad arriving as the sun was setting, dark and windy with flotsam around the dinghy and we were kids with kids and a crew, paid in full by the kids with kids with kids on the dinghy? Remember?

I was a new mother then. Everything was magic. My father could have died on a small island with chickens and wild dogs and naked children running around and I would have made it just fine I think. Back then. When life was light.

Dad, instead died a month ago. When I wasn’t in the Caribbean. When I was here in Montana, ten pounds heavier, with a skin condition, probably from years of heavy writing and heavy rejection and heavy mothering.

I know I need to practice light right now. To have a Caribbean mind. To be like the girl bartender on the island at the Soggy Dollar Bar with the piercings and the dun skin and more attention and power than anyone could ever hope to have. Remember the large black man – Bamba—at the Bamba Shack on Tortola who looked up at the way Venus was positioned near the crescent moon and said, “Something is going to happen soon.” And then terrorists flew planes into the World Trade towers and killed thousands and broke the world’s collective heart, and my father was still alive, so mine did not entirely break. I had my father. The something that I was waiting for to happen, did not happen, until a month ago.

I am a writer largely because of a lifetime of fearing this event. I said it at the funeral– “I have been fretting this moment my whole life. My father was nearly fifty when I was born. And I spent months and months of my life trying to pre-mourn his death in journals and novels and poems and songs and dreams and dark-nights-of-the-soul. And he was there for everything. He knew my children and my husband and my house and land and career and walked me down the aisle; he was there for more than I ever dreamed he would be. It was all a waste of time. You can’t prepare for grief.” I guess I used to think that I wouldn’t be anyone’s fool if I tried to. But the mind does not experience grief. Not nearly as much as the body does. That was a surprise. I have been preparing in my mind, and letting my body go cheap. Grief is visceral.

My father feared his death. He taught me everything I know about death. We were joined at the hip in our fear of death. And now he succeeded in taking that fear away for himself, and I am left alone with a choice. I choose not to fear death. And yet my mind does not comply. It seems to me that the mind is the true enemy.

The day before my mother called to tell me Dad had had a stroke and developed aspiration pneumonia, I was like Bamba. I said, “I feel like something huge is about to happen.”

I think we all have the power to be prophets. But are prophets like the messenger? Do we need to bear bad news? And what happens to us when we do? I heard there was a hurricane that took out the Bamba Shack. Or did I dream that?

If I am to be in my mind, let it be in a Caribbean state. Let me be with my love, collecting tiny sand dollars on a sand bar in the shimmering silver of sky and water and not knowing the difference between water and sky, and not needing to. Let me be fifteen. Let me be a green young thing tasting my first rum and coke and buzzing down the beach in the heat in my first bikini. And let me flirt with my first black man and consider drugs and not worry about my father dying or myself dying or my children dying because that buzz won’t let me and I have so much less to love. Then. It was all high. I won’t know then that I’ll be chasing that exact buzz for the next twenty years. God, let me be that girl. Let me be in my body and let it be green.

Make my mind Caribbean blue.
Make my heart agree to be so broken that it forgets to cling to the idea of broken and mended things.
Make me vulnerable past fences.
Make me new.
Make me.

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Motherhood, My Posts