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