Tag Archives: New York Times

10 Year Anniversary of My Season of Unlikely Happiness…

…Sometimes you need a dose of your own medicine…

wire

One of the blessings of writing my memoir, “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness,” and the essay version of it, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” are the notes you get from people.  I have been lucky enough to hear from a LOT of people, from all over the world, because the New York Times “Modern Love” column is mighty, and so is Amy Einhorn and Penguin/Putnam.  The essay went viral (#2 “Modern Love” essay in the history of the column), and the book was published in nine countries!  I never dreamed any of that would happen when I wrote it.  I was just writing my way through a challenging summer of rejection from my then husband, and I was fiercely committed to non-suffering in a time when most would call me an emotional victim.  I’d suffered enough in my life because of my sensitivity to other people’s actions, and I wanted to look this suffering beast in the eyes and shout Gandalf’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”  I wanted to finally find emotional liberation from my reactions to the things people say and do to me.  I wanted to be even…happy.  Which meant I had to become acutely aware of the way my mind works, how it gets in its way, and how it finds its way out of the dark forest.  During that six month time of my life, I practiced this self-awareness moment by moment.  Sometimes I failed.  Sometimes I was even good at it.  And always, I learned.

smile

This was new news to many people—that you could find your way out of suffering at a time when your beloved utters these dread words:  “I don’t love you anymore.”  The responses to the book and the essay were a brilliant reflection of what is at the core of humanity and it drove home something that I have always believed:  people everywhere want the same things.  To love.  To be loved. To feel of value. To be happy.  And there are a lot of people out there who are in pain and don’t know what to do with it.  They’ve given themselves to a relationship, and their partners are rejecting them.  They think that their well-being is contingent upon someone else’s treatment of them.  And it’s…just…not.  Happiness is in you.  It doesn’t get bestowed upon you.  Even from the ones who are supposed to love you most. writing

One of the things I loved dearly about the whole experience (and it still goes on nine years after the book’s publication), were the notes I got over and over, so often saying these words:  “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”  Because as memoir writers know…writing your heart out starring you as the main character ain’t for sissies.  And to know that your transparency truly helped someone out there…makes it a little less hard to write past the fear of self-exposure.  It helps give us the courage to be honest, and sometimes brutally so.  If you can think, “I am going to let myself bleed in these pages in hopes that it might be of service to myself and others,” it makes it a lot easier to open that vein.  The key is to do it from a place of service, and not venom.  To be self-responsible the whole way through, with your eye on the service piece.  Even so, there are the haters out there.  The people who enjoy kicking you when you’re down.  It’s easy to have big cojones behind a computer screen.  I always just think:  I’m glad I don’t have to live in that person’s mind, making people wrong all the time instead of trying to find the light in what it is that they have to say.

This person found the light.  And asked a good question.  My birthday was this week, and this fan, whom I’ve never met, sent me a lovely birthday blessing on Facebook.  I looked back at our message feed to remember who he was, and found his note from 2009 when the essay came out in the New York Times, prior to the book.  And then I read my response to it.  Boy, did I need those words.  Sometimes it’s as if we hold our wisdom in words…so that later…when we’ve forgotten or really need a re-fresher, it’s there for us.  This is what reading my own words, sparked by his kindness, did for me, as I bring my son to college in a few days, and come home to my Empty Nest.

IMG_0061Looking back now, I know that the time depicted in my memoir/essay was one of the most powerful times of my life.  A true awakening.  But we go back to sleep sometimes.  Or take little naps.  I’ve been so focused on the dread of Empty Nest, that I have perhaps forgotten the blessings.  May my response to him, then, help all of us.

Here are our notes to one another:

Dear Laura,
I was re-reading your wonderful essay last night, and had a very practical question: at one point you talked about “I’d committed to the ‘End of Suffering.’” I see what you mean by not looking to outward success as a measure of personal happiness, which is very wise.

Were there particular techniques or strategies that you found helpful? In my own life, I find it easy to disengage from material success or career success as a measure of happiness, but I still do find myself often defining my happiness through the success of my marriage, which is struggling at this point.

Not looking for any marriage guru advice here! Just was intrigued about the “End of Suffering” idea, and wondering if you had found something that helped. Thank you for the gift of your time.

Just lovely.  Right?  The kind of letter an author cherishes. 3d-notthestory (1)

My response:

Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry you’re having a rough time in your marriage. And thank you for your good question. Here is my attempt to answer it– before breakfast—with my tea beside me: When I think of suffering, I think of the years in my life when I didn’t know I was in pain. Most of that had to do with being a writer and not understanding how I could feel so deeply called to daily arrive at this intersection of heart and craft and mind and intuition on the page…and yet not have that trajectory met. I just couldn’t understand how to bear that pain. What was the point?

Well…finally I realized that I was plagued with some pretty faulty thinking. The act of creation simply had to be enough. So I dedicated myself to that. And immediately– the pain was gone. It was so liberating. I didn’t have to be a victim of something. I never wanted to be a victim– it’s not my true nature. I think of myself as a joyful, powerful person. But I saw how I had been playing that victim role as a writer, and as a woman… for quite some time. Basing my happiness on things outside my control. It truly is insanity and a wise woman helped me to see that.

So when my husband had his own crisis of self…I recognized it. I had been in that place. But even still…I had to let go of him getting through it. It was a moment by moment act of surrender. Returning to the present moment. And being creative in it. I could control what I could create and there was a lot of joy there if only I tapped into it. And joy sure beats pain. “What can I create?” is the most powerful question I know.

But here’s the thing: pain has become our normal in so many cases, and most of us, even those of us who are seekers and aware and practice being so…sometimes can’t see where we’re in pain. And we re-choose it over and over out of habit. You may already know all this. I guess I did too, at that time in my life. I just had never gotten the chance to practice it like I did in that season of my marriage. Sure, I had a large dose of pain after my father died…but meeting with dis-affection is different. It wants to creep into you and tell you that you are somehow bad. Wrong. And the worst: unlovable. But that is simply a lie. And one that we often live into and make true.

So I guess I would say to you on this spring Montana morning with the first red-winged blackbird singing in the marsh, that you don’t have to be defined by your marriage or your spouse. You can be free and even joyful in this time. Regardless of how it ends up. It’s such a wonderful way to live, and dare I say, you become rather magnetic when you live like that. And yes, maybe even quick to love.  But that never made anybody a fool, even though our reactionary society will try to tell us this. Not everybody wants to receive our love, but WE can receive our love. In that act of creation. Even this tea that sits steaming next to me on my desk– I created that. And it feels good. So I wish for you creation today. Hope that helps.

Yours,

Laura

10 years later from this season of my life, I send love to us all,

ED46FE53-9630-4CDB-B72983E21C67D306

Laura

Now booking:

2018 Haven Writing Retreat Montana Dates

September 19-23 (full)
September 26-30 (one spot)
October 24-28 (one spot)

 

For information about the February Haven Wander:  Morocco, click here!

 

For more information about Haven Writing Retreats, Montana click here!  Now booking 2019!

To arrange for a phone call with the Haven team, email:  Laura@lauramunson.com

 

Email Header

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Not Another Coffee Table Book. Munch.

I love this book. I am drawn to books about artists. I want to know how other people, whether they were painters or sculptors or writers, lived the solitary life. Some did it in suffering. Some did not. Munch suffered. I’d like to see the paradigm of the tortured artist shift; to see more artists find freedom in their expression rather than having it beget more pain. It begs the question: does art have to come from pain in the first place? Can’t it come out of love and celebration and receiving the beauty of creation? I do not have the answer and there doesn’t need to be one. I only know that I am better for reading books like this which so deeply bring me along the empathic journey of a man’s passion for his art. With so many stacks of books in my office and nightstand and living room, I find that I need books with visuals. To move out of words and into images. This book is a perfect balance of both. It gives visuals as it gives wisdom. It’s not a coffee table book. It is the work of an art historian who, like certain doctors, has not detatched, but rather has moved further into her subject, if you will. When it comes to art historians, I want them to show me and then tell me what they know, in a language I can understand, as a result of all their years of passion in their field yes, but also as the humans that they are. Thanks to Jay Clarke, I feel like I know Munch now. I have had this book next to my writing desk for the last year. I refer to it often. It helps me to know the heart language of this man, behind his art. And in-so-doing, it helps me to know my own work that much better. It has me ask the question of art and suffering and freedom. We are all better for this sort of intuitive view that Jay Clarke has widened her art historian’s eye to see.

Dr. Jay Clarke is the Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Museum, Williamstown, MA

Maybe you saw the fabulous exhibit which debuted at Chicago’s Art Institute in 2009 and which Ms. Clarke curated. Here is a rave review and very interesting article in The New York Times.

Excerpt: CHICAGO — Society tends to prefer creative types who neatly fit the pigeonhole labeled Other. The artist as solitary, tormented, possibly insane genius is among the most durable staples of the modern imagination. It is also comforting. That’s not me, you can tell yourself. I may not be creative, but at least I’m not crazy.

The modern foundation of this stereotype lies with Vincent van Gogh, but no one gave it more definition than the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). It is the ambition of “Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth,” a thrilling exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, to upend or at least balance Munch’s famous persona, which he himself helped shape, with a more realistic portrayal. Munch’s well-known suffering began with a childhood scarred by poverty and the deaths from tuberculosis of his mother and a beloved sister, Sophie; was made harsher by the religious fervor of a stern father; and was mitigated by precocious talent and the encouragement of a loving aunt. There followed early and repeated disappointments in love; recurring illness of several varieties; debilitating melancholia and bouts of paranoia; another sister committed to a mental asylum. His alcoholism didn’t help. Perhaps fittingly Munch’s most emblematic image, “The Scream,” with its hallucinatory sky and shrieking button face, was vandalized early on with delicately scrawled graffiti that reads in Norwegian, “Could only have been painted by a madman.”
Read more at The New York Times

Click here to read an illuminating interview with Jay Clarke.

5 Comments

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

New York Times "Lives" Column

On my side of the Rockies: (looking east)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25lives-t.html?hpw

This is a dream come true for me. I’ve been dreaming about getting in the back page of the NYT Mag since I was just out of college. I’m currently in a part of Montana which has never seen a NYT, and probably doesn’t care or know the difference, but I will be driving over this same “ribbon of a highway” depicted in my essay this Sunday publication day, and will be privately smiling…and so will provide some visuals. I took these on my way over. Lewis and Clark and me. yrs. Laura

On the other side of the Rockies:




This is what they saw in the distance looking west…can you imagine? And I just drive my Suburban over it, home in time for dinner?


Lots of squashed bugs. Lots of wonder beyond.

43 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts

Video for iVillage

Video: Her Husband Wanted a Divorce, She said: “I Don’t Buy It”

An author describes the surprising way she dealt with a crisis in her marriage

Jennifer Merritt ON Apr 9, 2010 at 2:55PM

Laura Munson always wanted to be a published novelist. But after countless rejection letters for the 14 novels she wrote, she never imagined that the story that would finally land her a book deal would be her own.

Munson wrote an essay for The New York Times, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” about her refusal to give up on her marriage after her husband told her, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.” Her response? “I don’t buy it,” and then she gave her husband six months to sort out his issues. The reaction to her essay was so strong it crashed the website’s comments. Soon after, she landed her first book deal for her just-published book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is (Two years later, she and her husband are still together, and much happier.)

In the video below, Munson talks to iVillage about how she found strength during the crisis in her marriage, what she told her kids, and offers her best advice for newlyweds.

View the video here!

Leave a Comment

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

Opportunity In Crises

opportunity
I am deeply honored and thrilled that after so many years of writing, my words are finding readers. First in the “New York Times,” then in “The Week,” and now on “Oprah online.” I’m hard at work on finalizing the book which inspired the essay that many of you have read. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/fashion/02love.html

The book is due to come out in April, 2010 (Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin/Putnam). While I’m in this editing process, I’m not able to personally respond to your comments, but please feel free to inspire each other, and know that I read every comment and that they help inform the book.

So many of you have asked me for advice. As I’ve written, I’m not a therapist nor a spiritual teacher. I’m glad that my story is touching you and that it may in some cases, even be helping you. To that end: The “Oprah Online” people have made it possible for you to comment on my essay. I believe that Oprah’s organization has wonderful integrity, and that while I can’t help individuals outside of what I do on the page, there is great available help on her website and in the teachers and professionals she endorses. So I point you there:
http://www.oprah.com/article/relationships/couples/20090826-tows-new-york-times-marriage/1
According to the website, there is an opportunity to be on a future Oprah show through the comments you might choose to share. It would be great if her organization could provide some relief for people in crises through the help of a professional therapist, especially regarding issues of marriage and specific to my essay/book. If any of you is interested in using that possible opportunity to help in your process, again, I direct you there.

Today, I’d like to offer this:
emergancy
A Different Respose to Crises:
We’ve been trained in our society to respond to crises with state-of-emergency moxie. To immediately react. To meet fire with fire.

Or to run away.

When we’re meeting fire with fire, we’re in control mode. When we’re running away, we’re in sedation mode. I’ve done all of the above. And after many years living in these modes, I decided I was sick of it. I was suffering and I decided to get really clear with myself about where the suffering was in my life. It took awhile. But I trained my senses and began to live with a commitment to ending my suffering. I’m not always good at it. But when it works, it’s such a powerful way to live. There’s so much relief there.

I got to practice this in spades the summer my husband went through his marital dis-affection. I like that word, “dis-affection.” It’s easier not to take personally. It’s easier to process and to land in a place of non-suffering.

I want to be perfectly clear about something that keeps coming up in the comments on my blog, other people’s blogs, the comments in the “New York Times” and the many that have come into my email box:

If my marriage had ended after that rough season…I would still have considered that season a personal success. The reason why it was such a powerful time for me, and the reason why I’ve written about it, has everything to do with what it was like, especially in such a hard time, to live and not suffer. To not translate crises into state-of-emergency. To not control and sedate. To simply, deliberately, day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath…detach from outcome. This was my journey. It was one of the soul.

That’s my message, and why I am willing to share my personal story. While I wrote about this way of living in the context of marriage, it’s not really about marriage or my husband or my family. Of course, if my being responsible for my own well-being rubbed off on them somehow, then that only makes it more of a success story.

Many people have made the assumption that I practiced living like that “to save my marriage.” That is not the case. I lived like that because it was my commitment to live outside suffering. If my marriage was “saved,” then I can only see that as a possible bi-product, but still not one that is necessary to try to prove or define.

There is so much pain in the world. All of us feel pain every day. Sometimes many many times a day. What if we started to translate pain as opportunity? Opportunity to practice not suffering. Where would that have us land? Who would we be then? Would we be victims? Would we be somehow…dare I say it: free?

Thank you for reading.
Yrs.
Laura

4 Comments

Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", My Posts