Tag Archives: Montana

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

wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone is building something.

Someone has plans that they haven’t abandoned.

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

Someone is creating something.

Someone believes in the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Zoom Meeting

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

Meeting ID: 983 992 436

Password: sonowwhat

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Off Script. Musings from my fear and my love

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

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

Ok—here goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world has stopped. So Now What.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to share it with you:

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

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

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

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

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

Something for you to do right now:

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

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

To see that we are one organism.

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

Watch the birds and trees.

They know.

And so do we. We just forgot.

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

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

 

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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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Finding Our So Now What

Willa's Grove

Pre-order Willa’s Grove now! (from your local bookstore, or here)

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 defining 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.

Love,

Laura

As seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

***Now booking the February Haven Writing Retreat

…and it’s filling fast!

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 (filling fast!)
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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Thanksgiving Gravy Haven

 

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat
s 2020– still a few spots left on the February 5-9 retreat!

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 for more info.

Well, Thanksgiving is almost here and many of us fear the  gravy.  Fear NOT!  You don’t need flour.  You don’t need to reduce anything.  And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need some powdered packet from the grocery store.  I have been playing around with my gravy for years, and this is where I’ve landed.  It’s a commitment, but you will be having “some turkey with your gravy” by the time you take your first taste.  Enjoy, and remember to tell the people you’re with on this holiday what you appreciate about them.  And stay off politics!!!!!!!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

  • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

  • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
  • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
  • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
  • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
  • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…
Giblet stock for gravy base
Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

  • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
  • Add the neck and other organs—brown
  • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
  • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
  • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
    day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.
  • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

  • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
  • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
  • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
  • Strain the giblet stock.
  • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
  • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
  • Cook down for a few minutes.
  • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 
    Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...
    Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!
And here…it…is!
Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!
Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones! 

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***Now booking the February retreat and it’s filling fast!

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 (filling fast!)
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 Magic of the Woods: A lesson in wonder

Red-Squirrel-Twins_3-e1544959850294I love to wander in the woods this time of year, when the forest yields its last fruits: the river birches and aspens going gold, the mountain maples blazing red, and the larch starting to think about their green needles turning flaxen and carpeting the forest floor. After twenty-seven Montana winters, I always get this pioneer sixth sense at the start of October. Suddenly I’m scaling the forest for dead trees for firewood, making sure they’re not bird habitat. I forage for rosehips to pull off the wild rugosas to make Vitamin C-packed jelly and marmalade. I take the arnica I’ve been steeping in almond oil since spring, drain it, and cook up my salve for aching winter backs. And I try to time it just right so that I pull the tomatoes off the vine to can, before the first hard frost. Sometimes I nail it. Sometimes I don’t. Such is the dance with October.

But my favorite of all fall forest fruit is the mushroom. This time of year, in my opinion, the best edible mushroom that grows around here is the white chanterelle and I’m obsessed. But I’m also obsessed with all mushrooms, just to see how they grow in their rings, or from hard wood, or push up through the rough detritus and moss to bloom in such blithe and ephemeral glory. Something you could kick with your boot and never notice was there, but something that if you go slowly enough, and dig around, you can stop to behold– to see if it’s edible or poisonous by its gills and stems and caps. I’ve always wondered what creatures eat mushrooms, especially the poisonous ones. I wonder, and then I move on, on a hunt for my harvest.

But today…it was like the forest was playing a trick on me. A really clever trick, and yes, with mushrooms.

I went into a forest where I’ve found chanterelles this time of year. I went with dreams of sautéing them with butter and freezing them as special delicacies when winter is dark and cold and seemingly endless. Maybe I’d brown some butter and add chanterelles with the last sage from my garden for dinner tonight. I salivated as I went, looking for lodgepoles and spruce, and a good canopy and just the right forest bottom– my eye on the prize.

Processed with VSCO with au5 presetI saw boletes mostly. Every-so-often a meadow mushroom. But no chanterelles. So I stopped and looked around to see if I could spot a better way to go. And that’s when my mind went into contortions. I consider myself pretty observant, especially when it comes to walking in the woods, but this one had me flummoxed. Because…laid carefully in the boughs of larch and Doug fir and spruce, eye level and above…there were mushrooms. All the way up the trees. Perfectly placed mushrooms, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The stems and caps untouched as if a forager had sliced them from the ground with a well-sharpened knife. I found myself saying what my kids say, “What even?”

My mind whipped into the mystical, as it has since childhood, especially in the woods. Were they placed there as an invitation to some underworld where beetles and ladybugs had tea with fairies and gnomes? If I touched one of them, maybe I’d be through the portal, sitting at their tiny table like Alice! Was there some system I was missing where insects loosened them and tossed them treeward for fairies to catch and place in the trees for winter food? I’m not kidding. This is where my mind goes in the woods. Don’t judge.

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I almost touched one but then I stopped. I didn’t want to disturb this numinous design.  My practical mind thought, Are they growing there? I looked more closely. No. They were most definitely placed there. Did a hunter do it? Why would they bother– such bigger plans? Were they dropped by raptors? Birds don’t eat mushrooms. I walked further and saw more– mushrooms in conifers everywhere. Carefully placed there and camouflaged. I’ve never seen this before in all my years of wandering in the woods. What even?Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

My mind went back to my childhood storybooks. Maybe I’d come across some dark magic. Wizardry. A witch who needed these exact fungi to make her brew, posing as an old crone with a walking stick in a black robe hiding behind the tree, ready to cast a spell if I didn’t move along. I started to freak myself out. I think I actually like freaking myself out, but only in this way, in the woods. I’ve been doing it all my life, but don’t ask me to watch a scary movie or read Stephen King. (unless it’s his book about writing! Brilliant!)

I shook it out of me. There must be some obvious answer. I just had to stop. And pay attention.  As is the requirement of the wild if you really want to understand its lessons.

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So I found a stump and sat, and I watched. Nothing but a light wind in the trees. And as I watched, I wondered: Why don’t I do this more often, sit on a stump? Why am I always walking in the woods instead of sitting in the woods? What happened to the girl who sat in the woods for hours trying to get one bird to come to me and let me touch it. It happened. A few times. When is the last time I tried to charm a bird? Or what about that girl who lay in her treehouse all day in summer, reading and writing and watching spiders spin webs? I had such a deep sense of wonder and connection then. And even more, I believed that I was not totally apart of this world, but a stranger to another that would surely welcome me with love and belonging. If only I could find that last filament of belief…I could enter a portal and be in another world. I was sure it existed. I knew that all it took was just one more Peter Pan “I believe,” and I’d be in. I always bemoaned my flaw. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t muster that one magic “I believe?”

Along the way, I stopped asking. But I never stopped believing and today was proof of it. I mean—mushrooms in trees? My mind so quick to go to magic, light or dark?

My head started to tingle and I began to lose feeling in my feet. That out-of-body feeling hasn’t happened in a while, and I took a deep breath and wiggled my toes. “Right here. Right now,” I said. That feeling scares me. Maybe it’s why I’ve never danced with beetles and gnomes… Maybe I’m too afraid for true wonder. So I sat there in shame, watching, letting my questions go and just noticing. Noticing is something I ask myself to do when I don’t know the questions to ask, and especially when I’m fairly certain I’m not going to find answers. I just allowed myself to be suspended in wonder. And that required stopping, sitting, watching, being.

Processed with VSCO with au5 presetMy dogs didn’t seem to care one way or another. They were more interested in the squirrels running up the trees, chasing after them, causing them to chatter back from high in the boughs.

Squirrels.

As the dogs bounded into the woods, I watched closer. And I saw a stirring in the snowberry bushes. Sure enough, it was a squirrel digging up a mushroom. And I watched as it picked it up, ran it up a tree, and left it there perfectly whole on a bough, I suspected, to dry and store for winter. How fascinating. How magical. And…how not unlike…me…in the woods, with mushrooms on my mind. My stomach fluttered with wonder, only on the “this world” side of it.

Maybe we don’t need tea parties with fairies if we have this, I thought. Maybe this IS tea parties with fairies. And a surge of joy, like I felt when I was a little girl, started in my chest and spread out to my fingertips and toes. I held it there, afraid it would go, but it didn’t. It stayed. For a good long time, watching this little busy, dexterous, squirrel. As if the stump was the conduit, the keeper, and as long as I sat there, I would feel this elation and connection with the woodland kingdom. So I sat and I sat, and I watched and I watched. Until the dogs came back and chased the squirrel and the spell was suspended if not broken.

I stood, a little sad, but I smiled at the stump, memorizing it, promising to return. But then I remembered that stumps are everywhere in the woods, and where I live, the woods are everywhere. In that moment, I was moved to take a vow:  All I have to do is walk into them and that magic will be there. But I won’t find it if I don’t look up, look down, go slowly, and from time to time stop altogether and find a good stump to sit on. If I find a chanterelle, that’s just a bonus. I’m looking for something much deeper than a mushroom. I’m looking for my wonder. I vow to look mostly for my wonder.Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

I didn’t find my beloved chanterelles. But I walked home and I went to my window seat where I keep my children’s books going back four generations. Hundreds of years of adults opening children’s already open minds to dancing with fairies in the woods. Maybe those books are really for the parents. And I pulled out a few about fairies and gnomes and witches and insects and mushrooms and the woods…and opened them and read them with tears in my eyes and a stirring in my belly. I’m really no different than that girl whose eyes gazed into these exact images with loving words spoken by my elders, while I lay in bed.

And I made myself say out loud: “I believe. I believe.” I wonder what the squirrels know.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2020!

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***Early Bird specials for the February 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! 

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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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