Tag Archives: mindfulness

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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Why I Wrote WILLA’S GROVE: Finding your So Now What?

As seen on Women’s Writers, Women’s Books

Willa's Grove, Haven Writing Retreats

Book ideas are always coming to me. I’m usually working on a few at the same time and always in different genres—different ways to find the truth. That’s what I’m after: truth. Each book begins with a central question—some quirk of humanity that gnaws away at me. Or something that fills me with righteous indignation, and I burn with it so hot that I have to stop, break it down, and look at it from the inside out.

At the root of every book I write…there is the pure longing to understand this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. In our quick-fire, button-pushing world, these sorts of burning questions can easily inspire a rant or a manifesto or land too tidily in Ten Easy Steps or the dread red bow.

To me, this approach lacks heart. It is devoid of story, which then fails to build the bridge that as a reader, and writer, I crave.

Stories bring us into the collective, hold us there, make us look and feel and maybe even find answers…which of course, beget more questions.

That’s why I love the novel. Out of all genres, the novel imitates and illuminates our stories—yet relieves the burden of reality with a distilled reality.

To me, fiction is realer than real. And to me, fiction then unfurls those burning questions in a way that is liberated by possibility. Namely, the possibility of finding an honest answer to the questions that work inside of us like a glass splinter.

We live our lives in questions, and we live them in scenes, with beating hearts around us, especially our own. The question that has driven my life for the last decade is one that I really didn’t think would be central to my life. At all.

But my life re-wrote its script, and I’ve caught myself saying over and over again: So now what? Maybe you can relate.

Once I started to tune into that question, I heard it everywhere. I heard it from friends, family, and mostly from the people who come to my Haven Writing Retreats. That central question births brawny answers and writing into the answer, whether for yourself or others, is one of the most powerful, healing, hopeful acts I know.

That’s when these characters started calling to me. Willa. Bliss. Harriet. Jane. They called from across the country and from lonely rooms with bleeding hearts. They called out of their shame and lost wonder. They called out of fear and isolation and loneliness and longing. They called to tell me that I am not alone and neither are you. We are in this together. We’ve just forgotten. And that’s why I knew I had to write this book. We need to build bridges to each other. We need to help each other answer our So now what.

I could have written this book as a memoir. I could have written it as a self-help book. But these women called, and I listened, and in giving them voice—sometimes words I didn’t want to write—I found a hole in our humanity.

We have lost the gift of conversation. Long, lingering conversation. Where no one is looking at cell phones or watches or thinking about checking off the next item on their To Do list. When is the last time you sat for hours with trusted kindreds and really…I mean really…spoke your truth? Told your stories. For a week. No red bows. No easy steps. No prescriptive advice. No shame or blame. And no fixing. What would that even look like and how on earth would you keep it safe? And…what if you did it far from home…for a whole week? In a quiet, wild place like Montana, say…

That’s what these women asked me. They were relentless. It was dire. They each were staring down the barrel of something you, or someone you love, have experienced. I wrote it once the way I wanted it to go…and then they got louder, and I wrote it again the way they wanted it to go. Six years of listening to and laboring with their questions…and I have Willa’s Grove to give to you in March.

I’m going to miss them. That’s what happens when you live so honestly in the central questions of your life, and when you do it in a community of people you can trust. You relax into warm blankets and rocking chairs and cups of tea by the fire. And you feel safe enough to talk– to really share how you feel and what you fear and what you want with all your heart. These women gave me the answer to my So now what. None of them is “me.” All of them are “us.”

You could argue that in writing this book, I remained in my isolation. In my pain and questions. That I lived in imagined community for six years. But I can tell you that the work I do as a teacher, editor, retreat facilitator, mother, and liver of life was made whole by being in this circle of women.

They were my teachers, and we all need our teachers. Thusly, teachers need to be willing to be the student, so the writing of this novel, then, schooled me like nothing I have ever written. (And believe me…there are a lot of books in my office closet that will never see the light of day because I wasn’t ready to be exactly this student.)

Here’s what’s possible when we write so purely from our heart: One day, I was walking in the snowy forest and I came upon a gorgeous aspen grove.

As Willa tells the women, an aspen grove is one organism. And it is not lost on them that by the end of their week together, they are one such grove. Hence the title.

So when I saw this grove, its black veins so pronounced against its alabaster trunk and branches, all set against the Montana snow…I stopped. Smiled. Thought, Oh, the women would love a photo of this aspen grove. And I took off my mitten, unzipped my parka pocket, pulled out my phone, took a few photos, and then looked for the text feed that surely must exist between the women of Willa’s Grove and me. Surely. And then I blinked and laughed out loud and said, “My god! They don’t exist!” Call me crazy. Or call the exactitude of story-telling one mighty form of self-expression. One mighty answer to one mighty question. One mighty supplicant-splay on the altar of truth.

It is my hope that people will read this book and think, “I want to host my own Grove week. I want to sit in this circle. I need to sit in this circle. I need to find my So now what. And I promise you, there are three other people out there in your world…who do too. They just might be hiding, pretending, smiling in the grocery store when their hearts are breaking. Ask them. As the book begins…You are invited to the rest of your life.

Come see me on book tour!

Willa's Grove Book Tour

 

 Haven Writing Retreats

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10 (two spots left!!!)
June 10-14
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Sacred Solitude: a holiday date with your vulnerability

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I write a lot about pain. I always have. Writing moves the pain through me and moves me through it. Some of that pain-processing stays in my journal, but a lot of it ends up in my newsletters, blogs, social media posts, essays, and books. Over the years people have asked me why I would be willing to be so vulnerable on the page. If you knew me when I was a child, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’d simply (but not necessarily conveniently) know that’s just how I roll. I get deep satisfaction from speaking my truth and seeing how it gives others permission to do the same. I long for that real and raw connection. I’m allergic to convenient niceties. In other words, if you run into me in the grocery store, don’t ask me how I am unless you really want to know.

When I was in high school, I used to say, “If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, I don’t want to be your friend.” Which either confused or repelled people. Now I get asked to give speeches on the power and necessity of vulnerability. I’m not sure how it happened, (Brene Brown likely had a lot to do with it), but vulnerability is du jour. And it’s good for us. Very very good for us. Here’s proof: the number one comment I get in regard to my writing is this: “Thank you for helping me know that I’m not alone.” When I read those words, and I am lucky enough to read them often, it gives me great calm and purpose too. Yes, it’s scary being vulnerable. It’s scary saying the thing that you’re thinking and feeling, especially when you know that it might leave you judged, misunderstood, disliked. But I have always valued human connection more than popularity. People in my industry have asked me, “What’s your brand? What are you an expert in?” And I always smile and say, “Vulnerability. And maybe perseverance.” I often get a blank stare. But the ones who get it…get it.

Admitting to your inconvenient truths/nasty bits can be a threat, a liability, a weak-link. For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to be treated with kindness and gratitude for it, and whatever criticism might come my way is usually done behind my back, which is better for both of us. (I’m pretty sure I’m an ugly crier. And my skin is about as thick as a Communion wafer). I love feeling like I’m doing good in this world by being vulnerable. Modelling it for others. Showing that it doesn’t make you weak, but rather quite the opposite.

But lately I’ve felt the deep need to draw into myself and “chest my cards” as my grandmother used to say. I’m about to go into hard core book launch, and it will likely consume the next year of my life. I will be out there on the road from coast to coast and in-between in March, and while I’m not the main character in the book this time, promoting its messages will require deep vulnerability. The book stars four women who are engaging in deeply vulnerable conversation in a place far outside their comfort zone. Each is at a major crossroads in her life. None of these women is me. None of these women is anyone I know. All of them are us. And that means…people are going to love it. And hate it. And my little world of women that I’ve lived with for six years, is going to be out in the wide-world with people counting its fingers and toes and deciding if it looks like Yoda or Eisenhower or my great-aunt Eleanor. It’s going to take a lot of energy and courage and self-preservation and stamina and everything that is required of an author on book tour.

So in anticipation of it all…I decided to do a personal experiment for the last six weeks. I sequestered myself at home. Mission: to stare myself down, face-to-face, and see who that woman is these days. It’s one thing to do what I did last year at this time– go to Morocco solo for a month to re-introduce myself to my wonder and sense of adventure. But to do it at home? Alone? I haven’t really tried that. The adventures of an empty, quiet, house with just me, myself, and I, and two adorable loving dogs– (thank God for them)? That sounds much scarier than crossing the ocean and not being able to speak the language. What about the language of self? I wondered: Do I even know what that language is these days, outside of my daily roles?

That’s why I knew I needed to do it. For six weeks I’ve drawn in. I’ve muted myself. I’ve taken to my journal for me and me only. I’ve forced a sort of gag order on myself in public. Which means that I’ve been a social recluse. And it also means that I’ve hardly written a thing professionally… which means that I’ve had to learn how to breathe differently. Suffice it to say that I’ve stayed away from the grocery store. I’ve said no to most every invitation. I spent Thanksgiving in what I called “sacred solitude,” but believe me—there was a lot of Netflix. I hardly touched social media. I let the phone ring and voicemail pick up. I didn’t chat up the Culligan guy. Or the UPS driver. I didn’t really leave my house at all. I went fallow. In other words: I didn’t do no good for nobody. Except for myself. I guess you could say that I was entirely selfish.

It was brutally disorienting. But probably brutally necessary. I needed to get to know myself again. To be vulnerable for just me. Without my usual roles– in-between all things Haven and all things book and all things family…I was dazed and confused. My website is under re-construction. I’m not helping anyone find their voice, write a book, trust a community of kindreds. I’m not exposing myself for any sort of greater good. And frankly…the woman in my living room…was sort of disgusting. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Mostly, I ate a lot of toast with butter. Lots of butter. I stayed up late and slept in late. There was wine involved. I felt sorry for myself. I felt proud of myself. I felt scared and small and even pathetic. And I felt brave and powerful. At times invisible. And at times too visible. It was like low tide, when you find the flip flop you lost last summer, the untethered lobster pot, the tiny bubbles that tell you that there’s a clam in the mud. And you dig in and scoop it all up. I found a lot of my forgotten self in these last weeks. I was deeply real with myself. I saw my most naked self for only me. I highly recommend it.

And then one night, I just said “Enough. I can’t take it anymore. I need human connection. I need my community! I’m going into town. And I’m going to PLAY!”

I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything was technicolor and new. I felt like dancing and singing in the streets and a few times, I did. Joy to the World! All the Christmas lights were up—the same ones that are in the movie, in fact! Every lamppost was festooned in wreaths and snowflakes. Town was bustling with people in restaurants, and the shops were open late. It all looked like an Advent calendar, with windows you want to open all at once because you know that there’s something special inside. I opened a lot of those windows that night. Ran into all sorts of friends—old and new. Belly-laughed. Asked and answered a lot of How are you’s. Entered the land of the living and was grateful for my community connection in a way I haven’t been for a long time.

Turns out, I had to radically refuel myself, against all my usual instincts, in order to find my way back to my place on earth. And at the end of this brilliant night on the town, when I came home to my home—my place of sacred solitude—and my sweet dogs…I felt a deep relief. A deep sense of inner quiet. A sense of deep inner knowing. A sense of deep self-acceptance. And a deep knowing that I can go back into my roles as a writer, an author, a teacher, and a mother with the roots of an inner home.

May this holiday bring you that rooting, wherever you are—with the connections that matter most, especially with yourself.

Here is one of the “windows” I opened that night. Going to use it as my holiday card. Trying to find the right caption. Taking suggestions.

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So far these come to mind:

My Hot Flash made me do it!

The Nutcracker

Elf on the shelf

#naughty

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire

Jingle balls?

Ho ho no!

 

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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Community or Netflix: (get off your couch)

She needs to get out more often, don't you think?

She needs to get out more often, don’t you think?

So this is new: going out socially as a single entity. I’ve never really done it. Not in my daily life.  I mean—yeah—to the grocery store, or kids’ sporting events, or whatever quotidian life has required. But socially…I’ve always travelled in some version of a pack. And in that pack, I feel an innate belonging. When I travel, it’s the other way. I’m a solo act and I love it. I love to get that rush of “the world is my oyster. I can do anything I want. In fact, I want to eat oysters! Where’s the best place for oysters in town???” And I get that zingy, buzzy feeling of being at home in the world. A little daring is involved. A little “anything is possible” fuels it. When I was nineteen and traveling all around Europe in trains, I used to adopt new personalities and pretend I was a completely different person. On any train, or in any restaurant, or youth hostel, or pension, I could be a woman running from the law, a college drop-out filled with a Holden Caulfield malaise, a photographer on assignment for National Geographic. I was trying life on for size and it was positively exhilarating.

Not so much now. And not so much in my own back yard. Suddenly, I find myself quite pack-less. A lone coyote yowling in a cold snowy night. Only she speaks English, and she’s standing in my living room, and she’s kinda mean: “Uh—it’s Saturday night, girl. What you gonna do with your bad-ass self? Sit here and watch freaking Netflix and drink wine in your pjs with the dogs in your lap? Again?”15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

“No. Actually. I’m going into town. To a brewery. To hear my friend play guitar. At a local fundraiser. Which makes me cool. And not just because I freaking know a musician…but because I’m freaking altruistic too. So suck it.” I can dish it right back at her, but it never feels very good. I mean, being at war with yourself, as it were. In your living room.

I think we all know that I’m already on the couch, with my finger on the remote control, the dogs looking up at me to invite them up on the couch. My actual pack wants me in it, and they want me here watching The Crown. Apparently they like the smell of wine breath and a proper English accent instead of my midwestern twang.

I sigh and wonder if I’m brave enough to drive the dark, snowy, foggy, black-icy, deer-full country roads. And I get mad at myself for forgetting once again to replace my windshield wiper blades. They suck. And so will I if I spend another night on that damn couch.

So I let the living room lie fallow, and invite the dogs up to my bedroom instead because I need to deal with my hair and my face and put on actual clothing that’s not plaid flannel and tied with a drawstring, and say “yes” to the lovely invitation to go out and make it count. I mean, it’s not like I’m just going into town on a pub crawl. Even though that sounds fun. I haven’t done that in years. I had some solid pack members along the way who lived for a good pub crawl. I miss that sometimes.  But even if I got that wild hair…well, it would be fairly rare to find an Uber driver around here that would want to brave it out to my remote home in the woods. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. And either way, it costs more than my whole night in town costs, so is it worth it to go on that pub crawl? No. And honestly, who wants to go on a pub crawl alone. Maybe in Ireland?Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PM

“No,” I say into the mirror, and my dogs perk up like I’ve just told them we’re going for yet another walk in the wild woods where the mountain lions do NOT hibernate. Which isn’t far from what it will feel like in town on a Saturday night, solo. “I’m going to an event. Where I know the musician. And the money I buy food and drink with goes to a non-profit. That supports at-risk teens!” And I look down into my dogs’ kind, longing eyes. “But it’s true. I’m really wanting to know what happens to Charles and Camilla. Oh. Actually, I do know what happens to Charles and Camilla.”

Suddenly the coyote bellows from the other side of the mirror, and don’t tell anyone, but she looks just like me. “Go to the fund raiser! Put on some clothes and get thee out, woman!”

“Oh, so now I’m a woman, not a girl. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m a girl. I liked being a girl. She knew how to have fun. She wouldn’t be staring into the mirror thinking about how grey her roots are, and how hopefully the dark lighting will make her look like she’s got blonde highlights, not Cruella DeVille skunk stripes.

She bellows again, “God, you suck at being nice to yourself! You’re an extrovert. You come alive around people! You’re starving for human connection! Slap on some jeans and a shirt and your boots, and drive into town! You travelled around Morocco for a month last year alone. I’m pretty sure you can drive five miles of country road and walk into a micro-brewery and listen to some folk music and help a great local cause.”

I sigh and keep this to myself: I wonder if they’ll bring Diana in this season, or if they’ll stay off of her altogether. Such sensitive material. I wonder what the Royals think about The Crown. I wonder if the Queen is funny. They’re all so serious in that show. It sort of wears on me.  I’m glad she has horses and corgis. Maybe I’ll watch the new season of Mrs. Maisel instead. At least that’s funny! I could use a good laugh. I wonder why it only got four stars though. Geez, when did I get so grey? Gotta get that fixed before the holidays.Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.17 PM

Laura.

This text just in: “Hey we’re hanging out wrapping Christmas presents and listening to Christmas music. Want to come over?”

I text back: “Actually…I’m going to a fund-raiser. It’s for a good cause. I know the musician.” Whatever. There was a time in my life when I knew every member of the Grateful Dead. Just not Jerry. No one knew Jerry, really. So that makes me cool, right? How many years can you ride that cool wave? Pretty sure that wave got sucked back out to sea a long time ago.

“Well if you want to stop by, we’d love to have you.”

Huh. I smile and get a warm soup feeling in my belly. Hanging out wrapping Christmas presents feels pack-ish. Maybe I could just throw on my pjs and go to my friend’s house and blow off the fund-raiser. She lives in town. So that counts. Doesn’t it? Not really a crawl, or a good cause, but… I mean, the brewery party is going to be full of couples and families and do-gooders. And I’m not feeling very good. At all.

I swear that coyote me reaches her hand through the mirror and practically pokes my eyes out with the eyeliner stick, and concealer wand, but she’s really damn good at covering up the dark circles. “I admire your work,” I tell her. And she smiles. “Now go have some fun. You need to be around people. A lot of them. And music. You need it like oxygen. You can wrap presents with your friend another day.”

Sigh. I’m grateful for my friend, but I text her. “I’m going to go to this event. But thanks. #snowcheck for sure.” Santa Claus emoji. It occurs to me that she runs a rad non-profit too, so she gets it. Hell, I run one too, for what it’s worth. We’re all trying to do such good in this valley! We have to support one another!

I put the dogs in their beds, and say, “I’ll be back a little later. Protect the house!” And kiss them each on the nose.

And I get in my truck and put on the Charlie Brown Christmas album and take in a deep breath. Why is this so hard? And I think of the comfort and security and belonging that living in a pack brings a person. At least that it brings to me. And with the kids grown up and gone (thank GOD they’re coming home for Christmas), I know that my community is my pack now. And the people who will be at this party…are my oldest friends in my community. It would be reckless and remiss not to share this night with them, however it goes down. And for such a good cause.15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

So, I pull out onto the snowy country road, listening to the jazzy music that was the soundtrack for years of Christmas tree decorating and will be again in a few weeks when my little pack is home. They love it too. Us. Though they have new packs now and I’m glad for that.

The drive is deerless and easy and even cheerful, as I pass the Christmas tree lights in windows of little log houses frosted with snow, and as I spot the first garlands festooned with red bells and tinsel snowflakes, draping over the road, marking the start of town…the road feels like an umbilical cord connecting me to the worldy womb of my little mountain community.

I walk into the party. There is my old friend finishing a song on his guitar, playing Christmas music in his enchanted folky, slightly funky way. He smiles and says my name into the mic, and offers me a hug. I get a beer and sit down to listen to him. There are other friends there too. It’s not missed on me that they’re actors. Writers. Creative, salt of the earth sorts of people that I’ve known for years. We give hugs and make light conversation. We’re here to support our friend who runs the Flathead Valley Youth Home. And after a few hours of fighting back tears, when he gets to pah rum puh pump pum…I let them spill. I need this like I need oxygen. It’s true. My inner coyote isn’t so mean after all. She just knows that it takes some prodding these days. These days of learning how to be my own pack. Coyote is the trickster, after all…IMG_5314

And it’s not lost on me that this night becomes a night sprinkled with holiday magic. Because by the end of it, I am sitting with my musician friend, and my other dear friends, in their home on the side of a mountain, eating spontaneous tamales in front of a woodstove, a towering Christmas tree lighting our conversation. Which is the conversation we’ve been having for almost thirty years: We talk of love. We talk of pain. We talk of truth. We talk about the sacred. We talk of loss. We talk of fear. And we talk some more about love.

It’s midnight. It’s time to drive home. To trace my tracks back down the mountain, back through town, back toward my part of the valley. There are deer. I honk and say what I always say, “Love love love.” And they run back into the woods. I have never hit a deer in twenty-five years of driving this road. Which means…I know very well how to fight fear with love. I just needed a reminder.

But tonight…I’m watching The Crown. In front of my own woodstove. With my dogs. My pack of three. Right where I belong.

May all of you who are fighting the loss of your pack in whatever way: empty nest, divorce, recent break up, death of a loved one, whatever it is…please know that you are not alone. And that you can get up off of your couch. And put on some clothes. And go into town. And find the kind of love you long for. Home is there for you, wherever you go.

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

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The “Me Time” Medal: a week of wellness

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

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

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

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

“Huh.  Am I really that person?”

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

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

“We’re worried about you,” she adds.

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

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

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

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

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

I.       Am.         Lying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My kids text me later.  “You okay?”

This is new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So for just this moment: 

Just…let your chest rise and fall. 

Feel your heart beating. 

Let your heavy head fall back. 

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

Something can hold you.

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

Maybe tango lessons next week.  Who knows.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2020!

One RARE spot just opened for the Sept. 25-29 retreat…

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

 

 

 

pooh

 

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How to Survive Empty Nest (AKA: Mommy Massage Money)

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Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 (one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running special discounts this week!

For those of you who are looking at the last weeks of August with dread, clinging to what last licks of summer magic you can put in your proverbial jar and hoard in your proverbial pantry all winter…and especially for those of you who are facing Empty Nest for the first time, and ESPECIALLY if you are a single mother facing Empty Nest for the first time…this is for you. But it also applies to anyone who is longing for her/his people, in the wane of these sacred summer days:

First, a word on this emotional miasma that you are likely feeling: (followed by some pretty solid advice…so stop what you’re doing. Get comfy. This is a muscular read and there’s a good chance that it will help you. A lot.)

There is so much longing in these dog days of August, especially if you are a mother of a child soon fledging the nest. Longing for things like that one moment on the porch with your college-bound son, before he goes out with his friends, AGAIN…trying to squeeze out some lovely mother moment in which you impart just a bit of wisdom, or ask that one perfect question that will evoke that one poignant answer and you’ll feel like you know your child again, or just that much more.

Maybe you have ways to inspire these moments and maybe it has to do with food. So maybe you find yourself plotting a menu that he can’t resist so that your home will be the chosen roost for his boy squad tonight, not some cabin in the woods, or some boat on a lake, or some media room with air conditioning and very lenient parents… Maybe you should be a more lenient parent? Nah.

Or maybe you are just plain longing for your child. Without all those tall smelly (albeit adorable) boys who quite likely have one thing on their mind: beer. Maybe you just want him. At home. Before he leaves for college, and you’re alone in the house. Alone. Wondering why you didn’t make summer matter more. Why you didn’t insist that he come home, miss the party, sit on the porch with you and play cards and talk all about life and love and loss and hope. Why you didn’t swim in more lakes together or establish a daily something together that when you are older you can both say, lovingly and longingly into each others’ eyes:  “Remember that summer when we used to always ________?”

And not have this as your memory instead: “Remember that summer when we used to always say, Bye. Have fun. Be smart. Be safe.” Or, “Can you mow the lawn before you leave? And weedwack?” Or “Gas money? Sure. I’ve got a twenty in my wallet. Help yourself.” Because why wouldn’t you give him a little gas money here and there. He plays baseball. He’s hard to employ. And the only spare vehicle you have for him to drive is the old gas-guzzling Suburban. You live in the country. He needs a car. Everything he wants to do is far away from home. And it’s expensive to get anywhere in that old beat up truck. And yet…as much as you wish he would stay at home, you’re glad he has places to go and people to see. And yeah…it feels good to give him a little financial relief. It’s summer. He’s a good kid. He works hard at college. You’re proud of him. And gas money is like your Bolognese sauce. Which means you love him just that much more. And no…none of it is bribery. It’s just making life for your child a little luxurious every so often. Because you’re his mother. Damn it. You’re his mother.

Since he’s been little, you’ve made it your job to teach him every lesson you can possibly think of, although you doubt he listened to you. Tick tock! Before he goes to college, you need to know where he is in life! You need to take the pulse of his heart and mind and soul! So you ply him with your Bolognese and it works: He gives you that precious time. For one splendid dinner. And you sit on the porch and see what he knows, where he is in what he knows, where he needs to know more. But then you have to go and blow it because you push just…a…little…too…hard. And he wolfs down the rest of his food and asks for gas money and is off to a cabin in the woods with his buddies and the cooler his very cool god-mother gave him for Christmas.

“Have fun. Be smart. Be safe.”  And you hold back the tears because he hates it when you cry. He feels guilty for leaving you alone and you don’t want him to. So you swallow and shake it off and holler after him, “I love you!” And then you go inside before he can peel out of the driveway, because you want him to think that you have things to do. Only you don’t. Not really. Not unless you call doing the dishes “things to do.”

For those of you who know exactly what I mean…clinging to these last weeks of summer before your child leaves for college…and especially for those of you who are doing this for the first time…take heart. I’m a year ahead of you, and I have some help for you. Wipe those tears. Make a cup of tea. Get cozy…really cozy. This is for you:

1)    First of all, don’t feel ashamed that you are in this amount of pain. Yeah yeah yeah…people will go to great lengths to remind you that you had kids to see them fledge. You don’t want them living in your basement! But we all know that this doesn’t help, any more than it did when your mother told you to finish your dinner because there are starving people in Africa. Now you just feel bad about yourself. Try this instead:

2)    Go into his room when he’s not there and take a photo of his clothes all over the floor, his un-made bed, the zillions of chords and devices that you don’t really understand or want to understand. And then take a look at whatever’s under his bed that you haven’t wanted to see all summer. Take a photo of that too. Ew. Now put those photos on your screensaver. Take a good look at them. Do these images endear themselves to you? Didn’t think so. When you pass by his room after he’s gone, and you fall to your knees weeping because it’s so clean and vacant and innocent with all those baseball trophies, and his Lego trucks still intact and GOD how you miss those days…take a look at those photos. Should do the trick.

3)    You know how when you’re at the grocery store checking out and you can choose to get some cash…and you get $20 in case he asks you for gas money? Because who carries cash these days? But cash is maternal currency and you always keep some around for that moment when he looks up at you like a starving kid in Africa, or at least a Golden Retriever, and says, “Any chance you have any cash for gas? I’m pretty low.” And you get all lit up inside because you can say, “In fact I do. Happy to help the cause.” Like you’re thrilled that he’s leaving you once again. You know that $20. I know you do.

  1. So here are your marching orders from a mommy who knows: Keep taking those twenty-dollar bills at the grocery store checkout line. Only it’s not for your kid’s gas money any more. It’s now officially, starting the week before he leaves…massage money. $20 in a secret compartment in your wallet. Watch it add up. I bet you can afford a massage every other week if you give yourself the money you would have given him to drive away from your front porch. How ‘bout that! Does that get you all lit up inside? I’m sitting here smiling at the thought of it. I’m totally going to try it! Wish I’d thought of it same time last year!

4)    So…you know all those times when you get the guts to ask, “Wanna go out for lunch?” or “Want to go to dinner and a movie?” or “Want to take a hike in the woods?” And he says, “I’m sorry, but I already have plans.” And you feel like such a sucker, loser, chump? Well when he’s gone and you feel that longing for bonding with a loved one…it’s time to text or email or call or choose one of the fifteen thousand ways that you can contact a friend these days. AND ASK THEM if they want to do any of the above. It might not be exactly what you wanted to do, and it might not hold the emotional holy grail of mother/child love that will quell that ache in your heart.  But heck—it’s better than sitting around at your shitty pity party. So there. Reach out to a friend. If they say no, reach out to another one. It’s better than being alone when you feel like that. Being alone shouldn’t be something you bully yourself to do. If you don’t want to be alone…don’t be alone. The world is a peopled place. Find your people. Just maybe not overly happy people at this juncture.

5)    To that end:  On being alone. You’ve heard this by now, I’m sure of it. “I love being alone! I’d DIE to have my house to myself. I could do anything I wanted! Damn! I’m so jealous of you. I can’t WAIT until Empty Nest. My kids are driving me crazy. And you’re not in a relationship right now? Sounds like HEAVEN! I’d crank tunes and have a naked dance party, just me!” Well here’s my advice: Stop talking to those people. They suck.

6)    If you don’t have a dog, you should probably get one. But if you start buying little sweaters for it, and custom-design a doggy bed that matches your couch, you should probably hire a shrink or a life coach or something.

7)    Now’s the time to write that book you’ve always wanted to write. I know a gal in Montana who can help you… Just sayin’. #havenwritingretreats

8)    Or take that trip you’ve always wanted to take. “Alone?” “Yeah. Alone. Just to do it and see that you won’t die. Not that it’s better than traveling with a loving partner or your loving children. These people: “I would do ANYTHING to travel alone. I LOVE traveling alone. You can do whatever you WANT TO DO!” See my above advice.

9)    To that end: Maybe just don’t hang out with people who are happily married and who are entering into Empty Nest. Not until you get used to going to bed alone, waking in the night alone, going downstairs in the morning to make tea and seeing everything exactly as it was the night before when you turned off the light. Even that piece of paper that you passed on the stairs and didn’t pick up. And then passed again on the way back up. And will keep passing until you finally get it through your head that unless you pick it up, it’s just gonna stay there. Maybe wait until you finally pick up the piece of paper before you consider hanging out with happily married Empty Nesters. Or maybe just stay away from them altogether until you can trust yourself socially.

10) Don’t trust yourself socially right now. Weird shit is going to come out of your mouth. And you can’t take it back. And it just adds to the shame. When you do the reach out to a friend thing…be very careful. You’re wide open. Like after birth. And death. This is a kind of dying, and you have to respect the grief process. Only hang out with people who understand that or who can find empathy for it.

11) Make your special Bolognese sauce, or your version of whatever is your culinary super power, and eat it. Alone. On your porch. With a really nice bottle of Cote du Rhone. Because these aren’t box wine days any more. You don’t have to pay for deli meat and bacon and a bread box full of English muffins, and bagels, and sandwich bread, a meat drawer full of big blocks of cheese, and all that protein and gluten he requires. You only really need the top shelf of the fridge these days. And it’s pretty slim. And it’s very clean. For once. Everything is very clean for once. When you do your cooking, be sure to dirty lots of pots and pans and plates. Then leave it all in the sink. When you wake up and go into the kitchen, you’ll remind yourself that there was some good old-fashioned living going on in this house of yours last night. And you have proof! Advanced homework: Leave it in the sink all day so that you can remind yourself, over and over, that Empty Nest is not turning you into a zombie. You still make (and eat) pasta Bolognese!

12) And here’s another thing. Not only are you not a zombie, but you’re actually living. So guess what? (And these are strict orders. I don’t care what’s in your bank account) You hire a HOUSE-KEEPER! At least once a month. And guess what? That one piece of paper on the stairs that you keep forgetting to pick up, or even passive aggressively LEAVE on the stairs to torture yourself with the fact that you are alone, and you’ve got the piece of paper to prove it…that piece of paper that you pass and every time your bleak mind skips to: I’m going to die alone…well guess what? Suddenly, there’s a nice woman with a vacuum cleaner in her hand, and she’s just voila sucking up that piece of paper, proving to you that you DON’T suck, (that’s the vacuum’s job haha)…and that sometimes you have to pay someone to remind you of that. (See: the therapist or life coach that you’ve hired. That massage you’re having on a regular basis in lieu of doling out gas money.) You’re going to start HIRING people. Not like you’re rolling in the dough, but all that actual dough that made all that bread that you don’t have to buy with your kid in college…well you’re going to put it to use to keep your heart from breaking.

13) Finally, and I’m a living testament to this: Your heart isn’t going to break. Not all the way. You’re going to race home from work or from wherever you are in your day, and think, “Crap. What do I have in the fridge and the pantry to make for dinner? He’s so hungry all the time!” And then you’re going to think, “Crap. It’s just me.” And you’re going to take a sigh, and slow your mind down, and slow your accelerator down, and you’re going to think… Huh. I’ve been wanting to see what this Outlander thing is all about. And I do have Netflix, after all. For him to watch whatever those scary boy shows are about the dead people. I wonder what else there is on Netflix. Maybe there’s a cooking show or something. Ah…and there you have it. You find A Chef’s Table. You find Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. And yes, you find Outlander, and you start wondering, after binge-watching the first season…if maybe you too could find a portal into another time, and find another you, and other people to love and who love you back. And you wonder…what’s possible for you in the future. Maybe this is the time of your life that you will one day look back on and think, Boy, did I ever have an easy, calm, self-centered (not in a bad way), life when I was in the throes of Empty Nest. Boy, was it uncomplicated. Boy, was I surprisingly happy. I’d do anything to have that Me-time back. In fact, I’d DIE to have all that sacred space, and everything just the way I want…

But for now, while he’s still home…you’ve got to get to the grocery store to buy more deli meat, and more bread, and get that extra $20 bill, and and and…pass by that piece of paper on the stairs and think, There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that maybe he’ll pick up that piece of paper. And if he does, or even if he doesn’t, I know that he loves this house, and all the memories it holds, and me too. And that he’ll come back. Of course he will. There’s Bolognese here. There’s a lawn and a weedwacker that he is proud to have dominion over. He loves his lawn. Our lawn. Who knows: maybe one day it’ll be his house. And maybe I’ll be living in the basement. Or in the studio over the garage. And he’ll be giving me gas money.

All I know is that I have to let August run its course. Not over-think it. Allow the moments to come naturally. Not force them. Be happy with those little in-between conversations over morning cereal. (That’s another thing you don’t have to buy anymore: cereal.) And believe that September will have its moments of grace along with its moments of despair. Please know…there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yeah, you had kids, and you loved them with everything you had, and now you’re helping them fledge. That doesn’t make it any easier. At least not for you.

The ones who are DYING to be alone and DYING to have their kid out in the world—I suspect that they’ll collapse on their knees from time to time when they pass their child’s empty, clean, innocent room. But remember that when YOU do…just take a look at your screensaver. That room smelled bad. The kid in it did a lot of grumbling and mumbling and wasn’t always such a peach. That door was closed a lot with music thrumping on the other side that had words you couldn’t understand except for the ones you still can’t believe he knows and uses. You thought you imparted too much wisdom for him to listen to those words. Well…maybe you did. Maybe he listened, after all. You’ll find out.

It’s time to let summer go, and welcome September, despair and all. Maybe there’s a naked dance party in it for us! I promise you, as much as I can promise anything without having a crystal ball: There’s a strong likelihood that you’re going to make it. A year will go by and it will be next summer and you’ll be looking at your kid in the same way, and maybe your life too…but you will say to yourself: I lived. I somehow did this life alone, without being a daily parent. I somehow trusted my child to thrive. And he did. And I didn’t die. That’s what I’m putting my money on: That you and your child, apart, will thrive. Not just get by. But THRIVE!

So…go outside. Right now. Walk barefoot in the grass. Drink some lemonade. Watch the dragonflies mate. Feel your place in the natural order of motherhood. And be glad. You did a good job, Mama. You did a good job.

If you want to use writing to navigate your life too…come to a Haven Writing Retreat this September! I have rare spots available on the September 18-22, and 25th-29th retreats! Email me asap to set up a phone call to discuss your creative journey and the Haven experience: laura@lauramunson.com

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Creativity: The great fear-buster

 

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Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 ( one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running specials through 7.31!

I wanted to name a child Haven. But when I met my children in the flesh, it never quite felt like the right fit. I’ve always been attracted to the word Haven: the concept. The practice. To me the idea of Haven comes from a knowing that scary things happen. Big brothers lurk under canopy beds and grab your feet—make shadow hands on the wall until you wet your bed. Grandmother caretakers who are from “good, strong farm stock” fall when your parents are out of town– and you can’t pick them up—and you see what it is to have paramedics in your kitchen for the first time who tell you that everything’s going to be okay.  But you know it’s not. Your best friend’s angel-of-a sister dies of brain cancer when you are six; the last time you see her, she’s bald and you’re afraid of her and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are, and you feel deep dark shame. It doesn’t take long for the average human to understand early on that happiness can turn to heartbreak fast. Things happen. And that’s why your mother cries in church. And why she hugs you extra hard on your way to the bus. And why your father looks so pained by the fact that you’re too heavy to carry up the stairs any more for bedtime. The bigger you get, the scarier life gets. There’s no amount of money or luck or good works that can change that.

But even so, and maybe especially so, we can still create the feeling (never mind illusion) of safety. Of haven.  It can come in a knowing glance from someone you love. Or a familiar smell that radiates from your kitchen most Sundays. Or the feeling of a cool sheet on a hot summer night. I have always slept with at least a sheet over me, even on the most humid mid-western nights. I don’t feel safe without it. It’s silly, I know. But I like the feeling of this kind of safety in small things.

I’ve settled upon that belief along the way: safety best comes in the smallest things. Less to lose. More to believe in. I think that’s why so many little girls love Anne Frank. She found safety during horror, hiding in a small space, writing. Yes, she was hiding. But she was also creating. She could control at least that. When I think of all the places in which my friends and I used to seek refuge…it was always a closet, an eave, a secret trap door that led somewhere—a root cellar, a crawl space. Or a tree house. A play house. Always small, simple places that felt like uncharted territory. We’d put a poster on a wall. Bring in a candle (kids, don’t try this at home). Bring in pillows and blankets. Flashlights and books and magazines. And we’d sit there in uncomfortable positions, practicing refuge. And for most of us, not much had happened yet in the way of scary things.  Still we sought haven.

By the time we become adults, things have happened for sure. No one can escape the “scary” things. No one. So what do we do with that? Hide? Probably not. We have bills to pay, and people who need us to stand there in the kitchen playing short-order-cook with a smile on our face. They look to us for that glimpse that says, everythdahlia_2ing’s going to be okay. And we give it our best shot. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes we make dessert instead and that does the trick. Or not.

It occurred to me about ten years ago, after a tri-fecta personal-life sucker-punch to the girl-balls, that life was scary—really scary…and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So I decided to change my relationship with fear. The first thing that went out the window was the notion that there was such a thing as complete safety in the first place. Ahhhhhh. That was a weight-of-the-world purge that brought with it instant liberation. Because if there was no such thing as safety, then maybe there was no such thing as danger. Not as I had known it. The world was as dangerous as it was safe, so why not play with danger? Why not disarm danger? Why not find safety inside of danger?

Rather than waiting for the big brother monster under my bed, I decided instead to claim my safety wherever I am. I didn’t want to be run by fear. I wanted happiness to reign in my self-created kingdom. Joy. Peace. I wanted to understand what Grace was. So I re-trained my mind. When I started to feel that ol’ bastard Fear…I flipped my thoughts into Creation mode. What can I create right now in this moment? What can I be responsible for that would bring me the feeling of safety even in the line of fire? What can I claim for myself in the way of inner peace? It felt a lot like the little girl I once was, bringing pillows into her closet with a flashlight and a good book. I was going to create my own yes, Haven, in my mind. Breath by breath. Heart beat by heart beat. And it worked.

It’s not that I didn’t look down the dark alleys of life any more. Quite the opposite. It was that I didn’t see them as dark. I saw them as chances to find some sort of haven in the midst of the darkness. And the one place I could control that haven, was in the way I thought. I started working with creating that pillow-bedecked closet in my mind. The more pillows and flashlights and cool sheets and good books…the better. I pictured it.  I took solace in it.  I believed in it.  And sooner than later, I found that I could breathe my way into that feeling of haven whether I was on a really bumpy flight over the mountains, or in a hard conversation with a family member, or in a daunting business meeting. I got good at it. Maybe a little addicted to it, in fact. Because it’s absolutely exhilarating to have the opposite emotional reaction to the things that people say and do to you than what society says is the norm. It’s like watching a storm come in hard and fast over the prairie, and get suddenly blown off in another direction. And quite when you least expected it…you’re in rainbow weather. That’s what I want.  Rainbow weather.

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So I didn’t name a child Haven. I took my new way of looking at the world and created retreats for adults who likely are looking for the same sort of way to process the “scary” bits of life. My way has been through writing and reading and so that is what I’ve created in Haven Writing Retreats. If I could build a series of tree houses and pillow forts and call it Haven Writing Retreats, I would. Instead, at Haven, we go to the tree houses and pillow forts of our minds, digging deeper into our creative self-expression on the page, in a nurturing group setting…that helps us know that yes, life is full of challenges. But we don’t have to look at them as scary. We can use those challenges. We can breathe into the groundlessness of them. We can take five days to practice this together on retreat, away from the stresses of life. And then we can bring Haven home to our daily lives wherever we are…in the safety of our minds and the words we choose to create in that sacred space.

I wish sacred safety for you, wherever you are. Find a pen and some paper. Write a new script. Find your haven. I’d love to help you.

Love,

Laura

Email: laura@lauramunson.com for more info and to arrange a Haven Writing Retreat call…

Haven Writing Retreats 2020 schedule:

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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The Purge: Reclaiming my office. Reclaiming my solitude.

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Do you have a place in your home where you let all the things you don’t want to deal with stack up? And then ignore it for so long that you can feel its teeth in the back of your neck every time you pass it by? I do. It’s my office. The room at the bottom of the stairs, one step removed from family activity. A place I could steal away to when I most needed it. The place that for years was my refuge, my creative container, filled with trinkets from my travels, artwork that fueled my muse, feathers and heart-shaped rocks, shells, sea glass, petrified wood, tiny beautiful things that I’d arrange like mini cairns marking my creative way. They were glory days. I wrote while my babies napped or went to school or had play dates. And sometimes I wrote late into the night or early in the morning. I made time for myself and my passion, and I was proud to model it for them—to show them that we need to create our sacred space and fill it well. Still, I vowed to keep what I called The Grandmother Chair, empty, just for them, if they needed to join me in my office and share about their day. The door was rarely shut with the Shhh…sleeping sign that I picked up at a hotel somewhere. Over the years they’d tape signs on the door: Mom Rocks, Keep Munson Weird are two of my favorites. I’d even overhear them saying to their friends as they’d pass by, “That’s my mom’s office. She’s a writer.” And I’d smile. It was a peaceable kingdom.

Then life hit hard and my office became a dumping ground for paperwork and forms and bills and things that had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with surviving. Things that scared me like divorce papers, a parenting plan, college applications, financial aid, taxes, a new business to run, a house to keep as the sole adult. And a whole lot more. I’d shove that scary stuff in fast, shut the door, and flee, because I could feel the beast growing in there, holding dominion over that prime real estate in our home. Suddenly, the coin was flipped and I was the one coming into my children’s space, finding a place to sit and share and check in. They were teens. They only sort of wanted me there. I no longer wanted to be alone in my office, creating. When it was time to write, I wanted to be in rooms where life was being lived not just survived. Where my children were coming and going with friends and plans, and where I could sit and at least catch a glimpse of them, steal a moment, a phrase, a “can I fix you a sandwich?” And maybe even, “how are you?” with a real answer that helped me to know that they were okay.

And so my office grew in mouse droppings and dust and photos that didn’t make it into albums any more, bills I couldn’t pay just yet, forms I didn’t understand, and DVD discs, and thumbdrives, and old computers, and chords for things no one makes anymore. As long as that office door was shut, with the permanent Shhhhh…sleeping sign hanging on the door knob…I could pretend that none of it existed, only hearing a low growl when I opened the door to deposit yet another thing I’d “deal with later.” The hard part of life could stall out in my office while I lived the part I loved. And that was getting my last child through high school and off to college, helping my first one get through college and move into her adult life in San Francisco.

Then they all left. And the beast got oddly quiet. Old. Worn out. And maybe I did too. I’d open the door to peer in, see all of the detritus of those hard won years, sigh, and close it. I made it, I’d think. It didn’t take me down. I’m better for it. The kids are thriving. I still have this home and this office, even with its dying beast. I love my work leading writing retreats. I can breathe now.

Finally…finally…last week, I tackled it. It wasn’t because the heavens opened and it all suddenly felt easy. It was because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was coming home and bringing friends and I needed the spare room for my mother. I did NOT want her to have to deal with my beast. And so I opened the door and stared it all down, and collapsed in the middle of the mayhem and just wept. And the beast spoke. It sounded different. More like a sad, old dog that feeds on poetry, the good old days, and anything that has to do with Italy. “You did a good job, woman,” it said to me. “You made it. Mom Rocks, indeed.” Then it perked up a bit. “Let’s crank the Violent Femmes and drink Fernet Branca and git er done!”

And we did. For two days.

It was one hell of a purge. We rolled around in it all. And it was deeeeeeeSGUSTING! Hunta-virus disgusting. I’m allergic to dust, and so I was disgusting too. A snot/sneeze-fest. On top of that, I made myself read every difficult letter I’d kept in a growing folder, so there were gut-shaking tears on top of the rest, and I realized how much misery was in that room. I had to get rid of those letters. And all those stacks of legal papers and tax stuff—that once held so much power. It was time to get rid of anything that brought with it any flash of misery.

I kept the vacuum on the whole time, letting it suck up the dusty scum of what I was releasing in every way. So it was the Violent Femmes droning along with the vacuum cleaner’s breath, on top of dust motes in my nose, and the click click click of not computer keys, but mouse crap being sucked up from under the day bed, and in the closet where my first tries at writing books live. I did not get rid of those. Nor the photo albums. But all the things I’ve been saving for this proverbial “rainy day”—like my son’s report on Ben Franklin. Like old score cards from gin rummy games on the screened porch. Time to go. Time to make this room new.

Here’s what I learned:  Life doesn’t stall out for too long. Just when we are in a place of dread, fearing that we’ll be in that low tide for too long to bear…things start happening. I dreaded this time of my life, even though I knew it would come. The kids would grow up and leave home and good for them. I had children to put them out into the world and to see them thrive. I love my adult children. They are so deep and wise and they teach me and challenge me and even take care of me from time to time. But the question has been: what to do with this next chapter? Maybe keeping it all in my office was a way to be my own Miss Havisham, waiting…waiting…waiting. And for what? All of them to come bounding through the door again with little busy legs and fingers and huckleberry juice on their cheeks? That’s not going to happen. I’m in a time of my life where there are long stints of alone time. Still, there’s writing time. But there’s also living time. And I have to claim it.

So…I decided that next week, after they all leave, and the house drains out to just my dogs and me…that I’m going to re-claim my writing space and deem my solitude delicious. To go into that room again with intention, and to go out with intention too. In this room, I will do nothing else but write, contemplate, read, savor my aloneness, which is required to get into that intuitive place the writer must court and claim. When I go out, I can be a human lint brush, letting things stick to me that are of the rest of life. And life can move and morph that way—in a way that it doesn’t move and morph in my office. In my office I am every single part of me from birth to today and I am mining it all with a third-eye-wide-open aperture that is sacred. In my office I’ll long for this sacred solitude: I am a child getting away with something. I am a child with butterflies in my stomach for all that the day can be. I am a child faking sick to stay home and finish the Black Stallion series. I am a child opening her journal and turning to a new blank page, connecting self to self through words. In my office time is a relative term.

And then when I go out…time as we know it…starts again. It flashes.

There is a poem by Wallace Stevens taped on the back of my office door, on the other side of Mom Rocks and Keep Munson Weird, that I’ve read too many times to count. The last stanza goes like this:

Only this evening, I saw it again

At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked

Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again

And moved again and flashed again. Time flashed again.

Time has flashed again. May it flash for you too…

Love,

Laura

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

Do you long to find your voice? Do you need to take a big bold beautiful stand for your self-expression? Come to Haven this fall and fill your cup.

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Sept 18-22

Sept 25-29

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How to Not Hate Writing an “About Me” Page…

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There is something that has been on my list for a month, and every time it finds its way to the top, it gets somehow pushed back into the mix. Okay…fine. I somehow bury it. Maybe you can relate. It’s the About Me section for my new website, and my Author Bio for my novel coming out next year—basically the same thing: capturing the essence of who I am and what I have done that might be of value to people. And let me tell you: It’s excruciating. I feel like I’m being dragged by my hair into a final exam that will determine whether or not I graduate from college for a class I didn’t take. And it’s like…Abstract Algebra, or Calculus V. Something I did not take in college.

I’ve been in full avoidance of this like I’ve never quite seen in myself. Case in point: I’m writing this instead of writing it. I mean, what do people want to know about me? That I’ve written over twenty books, and a bunch of them are even good? And that I plan to publish those books one day. That I turned down the Oprah Winfrey show not once but twice, and it was one of my dreams in life to go on that show and be in the presence of that goddess. It’s a long story– a story too long for an About Me page. But geez—that’s something I’d want to read about if I followed a writer with that story. Or maybe people want to know that I’ve been highly identified with the word vulnerability and also the word empathy since I was in high school. I used to say, “I don’t want to be friends with you unless you are willing to be vulnerable.” That made me really popular. It was before vulnerability was in. (Thanks, Brene Brown—who definitely has gone on the Oprah show!) What else? That Empty Nest has been hard for me blah blah blah. My kids are doing great. I have a roof over my head, and a lovely one at that, though there is a leak in the garage that I need to get fixed. Riveting content. Are you fascinated yet? And while we’re on the subject, why should you even care about me in the first place? Bleck.

The truth is, I just wasn’t raised to talk about my accolades, and chances are…you weren’t either. I was raised in the seen-but-not-heard, speak-when-spoken-to, don’t-show-off camp. I think that’s why I became a writer. I could put it all down on a page where it would safely live. I still have every single journal I’ve ever written in, probably as some sort of a constant witness of a life well-lived, deeply felt, wonderfully (and yes woefully) wondered. It’s no mistake then, that I’ve made a career out of creating a safe place for people to do the same. I mean, just those three words: Haven Writing Retreat could be the long and short of my About Me. With the words “I seek” before each one.

Just what is it that belongs in an About Me section or a Bio that doesn’t make its author feel like she or he needs to take a shower after writing it, much less putting it out there for people to love or hate, or scrutinize, or slice and dice? Or ignore?

I was sitting on my front porch yesterday with a marketing whiz and a recent alum of one of my Haven programs, here for a Writer-in-Residence. I consider both of them friends and am mesmerized by their elegant minds. So I mentioned my current “plight.” They both groaned. Turns out, I’m not alone. With ricochet-speed, we ping-ponged our identical feelings from Adirondack chair to Adirondack chair. How difficult it is to find the right distillation of words to depict our essential selves. How hard it is to give ourselves permission to “toot our own horn.” For other people? “No problem,” we agreed. “I can see your brilliance so clearly. I know just the words I’d choose for your About Me page or your Bio.” But for ours? Torture.

As I watched their minds think-tanking through those trenches, this is what I gleaned: to write anything that authentically depicts yourself…in these days of glossy brands and what my literary hero Jim Harrison called “the cult of the personality,” you need to use heart language. Your truth. And that in and of itself, can be a tall order. No one majors in Truth in college, though it’s at the base of absolutely everything in the end. But we learn that later on if we learn it at all. Growing up, we all-too-often learn instead how to jump through hoops and grab onto brass rings to get our A+. I feel like I have devoted my life to helping people find their truth by using the power of the written word. I can teach it just fine. So why is it so hard to write these freaking About Me and Bio pages? I can write a memoir or personal essay no problem. Probably because there’s a narrative to unravel. Stories are my comfort zone. Resumes…are not.

Tick tock. Deadline is getting closer and closer and I am still so far away. Maybe I’ll re-arrange my junk drawer after I finish this…

My Attempt at a Solution:

How about we look at it a little differently? How about we make a new sort of list of criteria for what belongs in an About Me or Bio? (And I like writing lists and bullet-points about as much as I do an About Me or Bio, so even this is gonna be difficult. But I’m going to give it a whirl for you and for me. It’s time to have a little conversation with myself.)

  • Let’s start with this idea of giving ourselves permission. Sometimes that works for me. I give myself permission to buy that special and not-cheap bottle of Domaine Tempier rose`, for instance. Not a gimme. But do-able. I give myself permission to adopt two sweet adorable unconditionally-loving English Cream golden retrievers. Done done done. I give myself permission to sip on a glass of Domaine Tempier rose` on my front porch with two goldens at my feet, watching the rain on the lily of the valleys and lilacs. There are certain permission slips that are easier than others. But I give myself permission to write about my accolades and what makes me me? Uhhhh.
  • Let’s look at it like this instead: You don’t have to give yourself permission to share your essence. If you are writing an About Me or a Bio, you already have given yourself permission to be exactly who you are. You can skip that step.
  • Perhaps the next step is to accept who you are already being.
  • As for finding the words…choose what is obvious about you that might not be obvious to other people because they haven’t wandered around in your shoes. They can’t know what you know. All you have to do is let them in. Think of it as an invitation.
  • And it doesn’t have to be everything about you. Just a handful of things that you want people to know that might help them get the hang of how you show up in the world.
  • And why not have it be easy?
  • Easy? F*** me! This is one of the hardest things I can imagine writing. I’d rather write four novels than this stupid About Me and Bio. Deep breath. I don’t mean that it has to be easy easy. I mean that there can be ease to it. Flow. In other words…try not to be anyone on that page that is anyone other than you.
  • In fact, stop trying. Just write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. You have lived a remarkable life. You have. Stop saying that you haven’t, or that someone else’s life is more remarkable so why should I even have an About Me page in the first place. I mean…I’m not Oprah. Or Brene. But I sure would like to have lunch with them. You are who you are. What is something that you can tell me about yourself that might inspire me to feel like I want to have lunch with you!
  • Relax. This isn’t finals week. You don’t have to do any research. You’ve already lived whatever there is to include on these pages. And you probably haven’t won a Pulitzer. Yet. That’s okay. Chances are, neither has anyone else who is reading your About Me page.
  • Just lay it all out there like a deck of cards and pick the ones that are calling to you. Maybe it’s something that wouldn’t have gotten you an A+ but maybe it’s the old moth-eaten sweater that you always go to over the new one you got for your birthday.
  • Pick the ones that feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable in your words, your reader will too. (And that goes for all of your writing. I’m not saying: avoid conflict. I’m saying: go into the heart of conflict. You really like that sweater even though it doesn’t smell so great! But now we’re on a 5 day retreat. Let’s get back to front porch wisdom.)
  • But I’m 52 years old. I’ve done a lot of stuff, and a lot of what I consider to be my great successes were very hard won. Should I include all of it? I feel like I’m being remiss if I leave out any of it! I mean…I did end up going on ‘Good Morning America’ and being interviewed by a former press secretary! My ego kinda wants that one in there. But heck—I don’t know. I’m more proud of those unpublished books. Can I mention them???
  • Think bridges. Ask yourself: What might bridge my life experience to my reader?
  • What is something that you have lived which might help others to know that they’re not alone? (That was the #1 thing that I heard over and over after my memoir came out. “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”)
  • Let yourself shine in the way that only you can. And it doesn’t have to be Fourth of July bedazzling fireworks. It can be a small, abiding flame. My grandmother used to sing me a bedtime song with these words in it: “In this world of darkness we must shine. You in your small corner, and I in mine.” Beauty is in the small things as much as it is in the grandiose.
  • No one has your story. No one. Even if you share the same accolade, no one has quite shown up like you have. Own it.
  • You can list your accolade, but perhaps you want to include a few words along with it that show us something about the experience. (ie: Had the stomach flu on my 1st book’s pub day, in a mid-town Manhattan hotel—a writer’s ego never gets to explode.)
  • But be careful: (and this one is so important, especially for women): You do not have to be self-deprecating to justify your accolades! You worked hard for them. Again, own it. (Yeah you had the stomach flu, but the book landed on the freaking ‘New York Times’ best-seller list!)
  • In the interest of time, I’m going to stop here. But a word for us all from my front porch: Be kind to yourself, please. You are a miraculous creature no matter what you put on those pages. You have done your work and you have done it well. Settle into kindness and care and respect for yourself, and you will find the true words. They’re in you, I promise.

P.S. Can I just use the following as my About Me and Bio

Laura Munson lives in an empty-nested farmhouse in Montana with two recently adopted dogs so it’s suddenly full again and she’s happy about that. And she writes a lot and brings people together to write a lot too. And those people are really happy when they’re here. And she loves her work as a mother (even though it’s not daily anymore), and a teacher (surprise chapter!), and a writer (her life’s love, outside of motherhood). Unless she has to write an About Me or Bio. So there. Please read my stuff. I write it to help us know that we’re not alone. Myself included. Here’s the bridge. Meet me half way. K?

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019!

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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