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Haven Winter Series #2

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the second post, written by Erika Putnam and Patricia Young.

SSSssshhh! by Erika Putnam

Winter’s first soft snow is falling outside.  I am in a remote town on a solitary retreat determined to finish the final edits on the memoir I have been writing for the last four years.  Doubts creep in as I am re-formulating the story arc.  Shortly after my second cup of coffee the critical writers committee starts in my head.  They sound like a cluster of grey haired librarians who have the tone of laying hens in a chicken coop.  The old one with wire rimmed glasses says, “Who do you think you are to write this book?”  The skinny one with the chin hair pukes out, “No one wants to read your droning stories, honey.”  The pecking at my sacred writing heart goes on and on amongst the hens.  Their nasty voices have me pushed right up against my quitting edge.

The last time I wanted to quit being a writer was a year ago, September 2012, at the Haven Writing Retreat.  We were nine strangers sitting in a misshapen circle reading out loud from pieces we had written.  Cindy read a play about a feisty teenage daughter fighting with her cranky mother and refusing to get out of an old car.  Our erotica writer started stumbling, blushing and gasping for air when she got to the part in her story when the buxom blonde was making a move on the business man.  Mid-sentence she abruptly stopped that story and began reading to us about a pair of trouble- making hooligans in the Deep South.  Sweet Emily delighted us with a children’s book complete with cheerful watercolor paintings of dainty butterflies.  Then, there was me who was reading about my, oh, so broken heart.

“No, don’t quit, keep going,” said our facilitator, Laura Munson, in a soft and encouraging voice.  From the right I felt an encouraging hand touch my back.  With hesitation I took a deep choppy breath and began again.  It was the chapter and scene where I was shamefully telling my husband I had filed for divorce.   It was challenging reading my work to strangers but as I read my own story and gave voice to my unfolding sorrow, the emotion began filtering back through my bones.  I was the exposed woman depicted in this memoir and I wanted to stop reading her life out loud. I didn’t want to be that messy, that vulnerable, that woman who had lived this scene.  Surprisingly tears turned into sobs.  This was not like me.  Tissues came from all directions.  Again I heard Laura’s voice compassionately pressing, “Keep going.”  I shook my head “no” as raw emotion had taken over reasoning.  She encouraged me further, “We want to hear. We are right there with you. We want to know what happens. Please, read on.”

On days like today, when my committee is speaking harshly, I do consider quitting.  I don’t want to write words that make me vulnerable and I don’t want to feel the fear that comes with choosing brave sentences.  I am lucky to recall being supportively held by the other writers at Haven.  We were a community of writers hearing our own voices, relating to our individual writing journeys and collectively fanning the same embers of desire to create books that should be written and read.  Those tears, on that night, with those writers remind me to daringly SSSssshhh the dream stealing librarians and “keep going.”

 

Haven – August 2013 by Patricia Young

My journey to mindfulness in writing began when a woman I had never met, never heard of before reached out to me one night, when I sent an email I never expected to be read.    I can hear her voice now when I read her book and blogs.  She mentioned a possibility – a balm perhaps to sooth the soul which in turn heals a shaky spirit and worn out heart.  This writing retreat was SO much more than what you will read about.  Haven becomes a part of you, and you it.  You will walk away with something rekindled, or something completely new – but you will carry home something intimately personal and very powerful.

I mentioned to you the email:  not once did she ask me then or now to buy her book or a mug with her name on it, containing tea made in Whitefish that promotes good grammar!  Not once did she fill me with false hope or expectations that ‘THIS retreat will launch my professional writing career! This is exactly what I needed to succeed!’  Haven is not promising enlightenment – you must find that for yourself.  Montana is where I found my courage.

Going to Haven was an invitation to come and experience something uniquely personal.  To do this in not only a safe environment, meaning you could say what you wanted to, what you needed to without judgment or ridicule,  but you did this within the support of a circle of writers while  immersing  yourself in the surrounding beauty.  I was changed simply because I was there.

My “ah-ha” moment was during my one on one session. I could not ask for a more amazing gift than to have her all to myself for an hour, pouring over writing I didn’t know I needed to write.

I’ve always LOVED to read silently, but especially out loud.   Yet never have I poured out anything so unfiltered, opening myself to possibilities way more powerful than anything ever allowed before!

Laura read my writings.   She actually gave a crap about something I had to say!  And then she did something else wonderful.  She wrote comments on it!  Yep, she did and not in red ink – but with recognition and inspirationally bold and in capitals with arrows and excitement! It was golden, it was tangible, it was honest.  This was real.

She called me “A woman creating her life”, then read her comments out loud – “lightness & depth & playfulness & wisdom all together is rare” and circled them, telling me, I CAN WRITE!!   If there was any doubt before, it vanished!  She took my hand from over my mouth and allowed me to take another step in words.  The shadows faded to dawn for me at Haven.  I have no doubt they will for you too. Be brave.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

 

 

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No Agenda– mother daughter inspiration

I’d like to share this blog post I did for the Parelli Natural hosemanship blog today.  It introduces some very special people in my life.  You might recognize the horse woman from my book.  Here she is:  Bobbi Hall.  But first a word about her amazing child, Cedar, who makes Down’s Syndrome look like mystic freedom, and maybe it is.  It is my great pleasure to share about them here.

http://central.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/2010/10/no-agenda-by-laura-munson-for-cedar-vance-and-bobbi-hall/

photo by Kylanne Sandelin

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts, Parelli Natural Horsemanship Blog Pieces

Stop the Clocks

clock
Stop the Clocks
by Laura A. Munson
(for Erin and Caden)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

People die here in ways they probably don’t where you live. To grizzly bear. Mountain lion. Horse…mountain bike…mule pack…off a cliff, launching their humans, avian, for one last adrenaline rush. An avalanche. A capsized river raft or kayak and a class four rapid and a rock or a log jam. A tipped canoe too early or late in the season on a frigid lake. Tractors, chain saws, timbering trees in the forest, no wood for winter for the ones back home. Deer, elk, moose on the lightless almost-empty country roads…right through the window shield into suddenly pulse-less laps. It hurts to think of all the dead in those moments that go so readily from brave to gone. But we like to call these, somehow, good deaths.
People almost die here all the time, and there are hero’s tales at the bar every night that end in toasting and another round and bragging and laughter, like little boys who have stolen something from the school gym. What doesn’t kill you here, does not necessarily make you stronger. It makes you lucky that you got away with being so brave.
Sometimes it makes you a voyageur. Journey-man. Rich in maybe not moral compass, but clairvoyance when it comes to the ways of mountains, creatures, waters, trees, wind, snow, heavy machinery. But still, even with intuition and bravery, in this country, there is an element of dumb luck to your survival. Put it this way: An agoraphobe doesn’t last long in this neck of the woods.
However you choose to describe us in death, there are a lot of ashes sprinkling the forest floors here, sent from not-so-brave, not-so-unlucky hands. Grief hits hard in our little valley. So many ways to live. And die trying.
Shocking then, when the mountains, lakes, rivers, and creatures and trees and machines seem unimpressed. Cold. Cruel. They didn’t ask us to be here. It’s we who came to them. We who invented some things that made it possible to go where we weren’t supposed to go in the first place. Helicopters. Boots. Polypropylene. But they don’t always save us in the end.
You fool.
You beautiful brave unlucky fool. You had a good death. You died with purpose. Doing what you loved. Getting after it, people like to say around here. We’ll say that about you. We’ll need to. We’re getting good at it.
But what will we say about the lives we lost this last day of winter? What will we possibly say?
The Jehovah Witnesses knock at my door and I hide and am glad I’ve got requiem blaring from my stereo. I might not be the only house today that is playing funeral dirges. I hide, still in my pajamas, still without breakfast or clean teeth, and hope they don’t get stuck in the icy steep of my snow-bermed driveway. Again.
Last time I had to spend an hour with them waiting for the tow truck to talk their sedan back from the ridge where it had attempted to jump, head first. I felt like my angle on Jesus might have embarrassed them a little. Trespassing against us, such as they do.
Today the flyer that prowls though the crack in my door has a strapping, well-fed on red meat, Jesus on the cover holding an immodest glass of wine. Blood. Lots of blood in this Jesus.
A car scratches down the driveway without snow tires. I peer out the door at my golden retriever, wagging his tail after it. He liked the man in the long wool coat with the shiny leather shoes. But wonders why he didn’t lean down for a quick good dog and a pat on the head like the UPS driver, the propane guy, the Culligan guy, the FedEx guy, the neighbor who delivers the eggs, the teenager who brings wood with his buddy, mid-winter.
And I wonder if the Jehovah Witness thinks he’s brave. All those doors and dogs. And today, all the dirges. Maybe doors will fling open today, and weeping young people will lift fists at his shiny shoes on their winter-strewn front stoops. Rage at his red-blooded Jesus and all his wine.
There is nothing that helps us with these deaths. They’re deaths we aren’t used to. We have nothing to frame them by—no sense to make of them– nothing that will gather us at the side of a mountain or have us huddled in the woods, somehow thinking about good ways to die. People who didn’t believe in God, are mad at God. People who did believe in God are mad at God.
We reach to out-of-towners for solace and understanding– who live near highways…busy highways…highways that bear commuters and constant chains of serious voyageurs—people who know that there are weak links every day in that chain. It’s their common practice to expect the ringing phone to bring them news they dread…but will swallow…eventually, or maybe even at once, as the way of the world. There will be a proper burial with just family and close friends. They’ll gather in churches, in black, ashes to ashes in a little urn. A party afterward where people will drink wine and plenty of them will get drunk and cry, but no one will talk about a good death. It’s a normal death. A normal tragedy.
Not this.
This was no regular death. This was no normal death. Not to us. Just because it happened on the busiest strip of highway we know.
So I’ll refrain from telling you for a moment more, how she died. They died. How our pregnant she and her thirteen year old son died. On the last day of winter. Here where we live. Because I can’t bear your reaction: Well, accidents like that happen. Dime a dozen. Still, tragic.. And then you’ll launch into all your people, lost on pavement.
I don’t want to feel so normal.
I don’t.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

I’ll add to Auden because it’s the only way I can imagine being brave right now, hiding from the solicitors in a snowstorm on this second day of spring:
Pack up the machines. The inventions.
Bring out the bears.
Wake up and beckon us.
Make us come naked. Without boots.
Make us see how far we can get. And watch us stop and cry.
Because it’s not so very far without boots.
Then comfort us where we fall. By wandering past us.
Sniffing our punctured, leaking bravery. And what’s left of our luck.
Tell us you don’t have the appetite for fools. Even beautiful ones.
Make us listen to the shivering birds.
Who’ve come back, knowing there would be snow and little food.
Make us listen…to the shivering birds.
And mourn now. Normally.
Shivering in the woods.
Knowing that spring will unravel now.
Whether or not we join it.

For however else can we understand a head-on collision on the highway? When a purportedly suicidal sixteen year old, in a fight with her boyfriend, catapults her Pontiac Grand Am into oncoming traffic, and hits a Subaru Forester, holding a pregnant woman, and her thirteen year old son, coming back from a band concert on a Thursday night. In Montana. mother and babe

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