Tag Archives: relationships

What to say when someone dies

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No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

205

 

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Teacher Appreciation Week: A Q&A for your favorites!

Haven Writing Retreats

Helping the written word be the teacher it is!

I never thought I’d be a teacher.  I still don’t actually call myself one.  I’m more of a facilitator.  The design of my Haven Writing Retreat is the ultimate teacher.  The writing exercises.  The readings.  The guided feedback.  The community of word-lovers.  And of course, Montana.  I hold the whole thing, ’tis true.  And I love it with all my heart.

Doing this work has had me in reflection about the teachers who have shaped me, some of them no longer with us, but forever in my head and hopefully in my prose.  Favorite lines like, “Get rid of the bombast and the deadwood!”  (Gordon McKinley, Westminster school).  ”Good Morning, Miss Munson,” (Malcolm Coates, yanking on my pony-tail as I was nodding off, making me read William Safire On Language out loud from the NYT magazine.  9th grade.  Lake Forest Country Day School).  Memorizing Desiderata in 7th grade and reciting it as a class.  (Scott Bermingham, LFCDS). “You will get an automatic F if you use the Passive Voice.”  (Thank you, English Department, Westminster school.  BTW, I can still recite Sonnet 18.  Shall I compare thee…).  ”You really should think seriously about going abroad for an entire year.”  (Nan Shiras.  Spanish class.  6th grade.  LFCDS).  ”It was supposed to be an hour-long presentation on the Bruges Madonna, Laura.  Not a short story about it being stolen by the Nazis from Mary’s point of view.”  (D minus.  Later published in a literary journal.  Rab Hatfield.  Junior Year abroad.  Syracuse University.  Florence, Italy campus).  The answer Yes to this:  ”I’d like to do an independent study on crayon drawing.  But what I’m really doing is buying time to work on a novel.”  (Tony Stoneburner– Senior year.  Dension University).  And perhaps the defining moment of my life:  ”This is not cinema, Ms. Munson!  Take this (full length screenplay) to the fools in the English Department!” (Elliot Stout , Cinema department– Denison University).  And the consequent, “Where have you been for the last three years?  I’m putting you in the advanced Creative Writing class.”  (Dick Kraus, English department– Denison University).  Bless you people.  And so many more, of course.

Last week, I was inspired by a two time Haven Writing Retreat alum and retired teacher, Donna Naquin, to honor some of my favorite teachers.  By the magic of social media, I found them, and asked them if they would answer these questions, or at least a handful of them.  I will be posting their responses here on May 15th.  I invite you to use this questionnaire with your favorite teachers.  Feel free to email the responses to me and I will post the top five here.  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com  

Q&A for Teachers (current and retired)   (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

What gets you (got you) out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Will books ever die?

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info and to set up a time to talk, email Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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Modern Love: The Podcast

My Modern Love essay finds its way to NPR!

If you liked the essay, you’ll love the book:
“This Is Not The Story You Think It Is”

 

After so many people, literally millions, read my Modern Love essay in the New York Times in 2009…and after so many people didn’t receive its message, it is just plain manna for this writer to listen to the fantastic, spot-on, podcast that the NPR Boston station WBUR, the editor of the column, Dan Jones, and the actress Alysia Reiner put together.  That essay, called “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” was reproduced all over the internet, and to date, it is the #2 Modern Love essay and the #1 most read article in the history of The Week.  And now…it has the kind of support and integrity that I always wanted it to have.  My deep gratitude goes out to the whole team who gave their hearts and elegant minds and voices to my essay.

What many people don’t know is that the essay was the short version of a memoir I wrote in real time, during that six month period, called This Is Not The Story You Think It Is:  A Season of Unlikely Happiness.  bookjacket_ThisIsNotTheStory_smWhile the essay was written in hind-sight, the book shows a woman going through a deep time of rejection with a very different, and in some ways counter-intuitive, approach to well-being.  My book shows a woman, in her daily life, working with what it is to live in the moment, right there at her kitchen sink, driving her kids to school, in the mundane…with a commitment to emotional freedom.  How?  By becoming aware of the way the mind works, recognizing how it does and doesn’t serve me, and choosing to claim responsibility for my emotions.  Whether they were fear-based, or joy-based, confused or ashamed, I learned in that time of my life, that nobody can control my mind or my heart and that I have choices in response to the things people say and do to me.  Emotionally, that is.  My message was never a strategy about how to stay married.  It was always a philosophy about how to live your life, no matter what hardship you face.  Thank you for listening, and thank you for receiving this message.   Click here to listen to the podcast!

To buy the book, click here.

Modern Love Podcast

To learn more about my Haven Writing Retreats, click here.

Now Booking our Fall Retreats:

September 7-11 (only a few spots left)
September 21-25 (only a few spots left)
October 5-9
October 19-23

And now booking our full 2017 Haven Writing Retreat calendar:

Feb 22-26

June 7-11, 21-25

Sept 6-10, 20-24

Oct 4-8, 18-22
Subscribe to the Modern Love podcast for more illumination!

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Dreams Can Come True

“We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live…”  Brian Donovan
900-0634-KELLYc_F3smThis film went straight to my core from the first frame.  Its creator, Brian Donovan, says it so perfectly:  “We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.”  If you can own this sentence in any way shape or form, this film and this Q&A with actor/film-maker Brian Donovan is for you:

Q:         I loved this film so much, Brian.  As a writer (and a film major in college), I’m curious to know what your writing/editing process was like? 

A:         Ha. Well, in the beginning if you came into my office and saw the giant mural I had created of characters, stories, conflict, etc…you probably would have sent me to therapy. My friend said it looked like a giant Rorschach Inkblot Test! It was dense with black Sharpie. I liken the whole process to what I imagine shaping clay for sculptors is like. You start with a mass and then shape and shape, and for awhile it still looks like a big lump of clay. But gradually (and for me ‘gradually’ meant years) it starts to look like something. And then you start to fine tune…everything! For filmmakers, it often means ‘killing your babies,’ which basically means a lot of wonderful footage, and even scenes that you’ve ‘shaped and shaped’ end up on the cutting room floor. It’s a brutal process, but all part of finding the true essence of what you’re trying to say in the leanest and most effective way possible. 

Q:         You ‘shaped’ for a while–seven years.  Why was it so important for you to see it through and tell this story?

A:         I didn’t know it was going to take seven years when I started! Haha. I was compelled to tell my sister’s story because I still feel like there’s lingering prejudice and misconceptions about the disabled. If you had seen my sister from afar or across the room, most would just label her disabled, or “Oh, she has Downs.” We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.

Q:         Boundaries, or lack thereof, are a big theme in the doc. Your relationship with your sister strained your other relationships, especially your romantic relationships.  In hindsight would you have done anything differently?

A:         I’d like to think I wouldn’t change a thing and don’t really believe in regret. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to my girlfriend’s needs, but at the time and throughout Kelly’s life, my sister was my priority. It was a sacred relationship cemented at childhood, and it never made sense for me to compromise that for a new relationship. It was a tricky thing to be sure, and finding the balance was nearly impossible until I met my now wife. 

Q:         What do you want people to take away from the film?

A:         We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live. And that dreams are important and should be honored and pursued with every fiber of your being. It not only gives our lives purpose, but it also creates a vibration in the world that is attractive and infectious if it’s pursued with good intention. And finally, to remember that our attitude is the only thing we can control in different circumstances–my mom’s attitude to bring my sister home from the hospital when the doctors advised her to institutionalize Kelly, my sister’s attitude that she was more than her disability, and my attitude that love is the greatest gift we have to give no matter what. Brian and Kelly

 NPR interview:

http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2015/07/30/43906/kelly-s-hollywood-a-dream-come-true-for-a-woman-wi/

 Link to stream movie (also via the doc website below):

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/kellyshollywood

BIO:

Brian Donovan has been a professional actor for over twenty-five years in film, television and radio. He’s worked on-screen with such luminaries as Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey and Jim Belushi. He’s been the voice of countless animated heroes — currently as Rock Lee from the juggernaut hit, Naruto. Next year, he can be seen in the indie film, Secrets of an Unborn Child.

In addition, Brian has been the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre since 1994, producing and directing over 50 inner-city high school workshops and live shows. He is also the creator, writer and producer of the Mighty Me Training Camp, a top ranking children’s self empowerment program streamed by Discovery Education. 

Brian lives in Los Angeles with his family and dog, Cosmo.

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #13

The bare bones of the blank page. The architecture of story. Apparently the muse decided to go on Spring Break today.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Grey day after grey day from this window where I sit with my laptop, writing…and the muse feels dark and fed up.  And then a sunny day comes.  And I remember what gratitude is.  Please enjoy this piece on gratitude.

On Belonging (Or, Becoming the Flower You Were Meant to Be), by Kara Norman

Belonging is a difficult topic for me.  Just last night, I found myself saying two contradictory things when speaking with a friend.  I said:

1.     When my husband and I have kids, I want to be careful about how many counter-cultural patterns I introduce into the house.  As writers and shyly sensitive people, I am confident we will have plenty of refuge from mass culture.

2.     In high school, I had lots of friends.  I still have a rich helping of friends in my life.  But I miss the person I used to be in my youth: hyper, excitable, quick to laugh. Eager to pal around.  Kind of shiny.

*          *          *

I met my husband during our first year of graduate school in North Carolina.  We were both aspiring writers.  He was from Ohio – a tall crane of a man.  He was five years younger than I, and cat-like.  He hung around the coffee shop where I worked, scribbling notes onto napkins and sliding them across counters to me while I chopped carrots in my spattered black apron and shifted from foot to foot, hoping to alleviate the cramps in my legs from standing for hours at a time.

I was twenty-eight.  I had a handful of meaningful, discarded relationships under my belt, and I was living with someone else. Until I screwed up the courage to break off the relationship, so I could be with the man who was to become my husband.

After the break-up, itself a strange flash of abuse by the boyfriend, I was semi-homeless. One of my friends generously let me crash at her apartment. I loved those days – awakening on her futon, her offers to cook me a fried egg. She served strong coffee and we navigated the morning delicately as her big-bellied cat waddled around the rooms.

I loved soaping myself with the wash cloths my friend left for me in the shower, the brush and its hairs strewn about the sink, her little kitchen with the little window that climbed onto a small roof ledge – everything screaming single, single, just as I want it!

But, as my friend also had feelings for the man who was to become my husband, and I hadn’t exactly fessed up to my motives in breaking up with my boyfriend, things quickly grew complicated.  I was out of another place to live.

I didn’t mean to move directly into Tim’s apartment, his arms, our life together, but things just clicked.  We had the routine of school, his teaching fellowship, my shitty coffee shop job, and nights together reading books, eating Chinese food, wandering the humid streets of our town.  We had a life, and fell in love.

When I called my mother to tell her I had a place now for my dog, which my parents had been dog-sitting until I had either my own home or a cat-less place to land, she asked if I was still at my friend’s apartment.  When I said no, she asked if I was getting my own apartment.  When I said no, she said, “Oh.” I had minutes earlier told her about my new affair with Tim, and she was putting together the pieces.

But I had just turned twenty-nine, and for some reason, my parents always trusted me – or generally went along with whatever half-baked plans I drew up for myself.  I retrieved my dog, installed his bed in the non-working fireplace in Tim’s living room, and got on with my life.

Months ticked away.  Tim and I completed our second year of school.  We moved into a house together.  I was as rabidly insecure about my talents as a writer and how my spiritual colors fit into academic worlds as ever.  I had moved from Asheville, North Carolina, a place people like to say was built on a bed of quartz.  I had just seen a psychic to heal a long-standing soupiness in my soul. I was a little out there.

I was also prickly around Tim’s parents, a sweet couple who were born, raised, schooled, and living in rural Ohio.  I was afraid they wanted me to be a conservative haven, someone they could agree with politically.  I was socially agreeable, but burned with resentment at certain times: when asked to lie about Tim and I living together, when the topic of yoga felt on par to them with talking about witch-craft.

I took a yoga training class, meditated, journaled. None of these practices cured my loneliness.  I was plagued by insecurities, a kind of self-hatred that built a thick shell of distrust around my heart, my body, my life.

And then, returning home from a round of golf with his boss, Tim called me into the bedroom.  He held his testicles in his hand, one of them swollen.  He hoped it was a fluke; it would go down.  I persisted in what he may have been hoping for: I insisted we seek medical help.

I found a sub for the yoga class I was supposed to teach that night and accompanied Tim to the Urgent Care, where we sat in the waiting room for a few minutes before being seen by the kindest, hottest PA I had ever met – a man who was humbled by what he saw on Tim’s body.

He sent us to the hospital.

In the examining room, as we waited for Tim’s next PA, we saw the stacked boxes of medical gloves, labeled with the name of the company where Tim’s older brother worked.

I held Tim’s hand, assured him that whatever happened, we would take care of it.

He knew it wasn’t good.

I knew it wasn’t good.

Neither of us had health insurance.

*          *          *

We were sent home with an appointment for Tim to see an oncologist the next morning, and the information that some types of testicular cancer produce a hormone called Beta HCG, the hormone otherwise only found in pregnant women. If we wanted a short answer to our questions about what was happening in Tim’s body, there was a chance a home pregnancy test could provide an immediate confirmation.

We went to a drug store, bought a test, and ducked when we spotted our program’s poetry professor, the one with basset-hound cheeks and eyes that could drill to the black center of you.  He was shopping through Valentine cards in the Hallmark aisle.  It was February 10.

*          *          *

That night, we confirmed it:  Tim was pregnant.  Three days later, he had his right testicle removed, chucked into a “bucket,” as his gruff, sirloin-fed oncologist joked.  His parents came down from Ohio and we all celebrated Valentine’s Day together, Tim on painkillers, walking with the support of a broom handle, a batch of brownies made by his mother, yellow and pink supermarket flowers bought by his father at Tim’s request.

It was beautiful.

We told only a handful of people in our small graduate program about Tim’s surgery and his removed cancer.  They organized and delivered a rotation of gorgeous, hot meals, providing company and nourishment and food to our light-filled ranch house.  We opened our front door to people we had only had class with previously. We ate burritos on our living room floor with dear people who were as afraid of social commitment as we were.  One of my favorite professors dropped off a Himalayan salt lamp, chocolate chip cookies.

One of the best hospitals in the country approved Tim and his myriad bills for their charity care program.  Tim survived. But the world was not the same after that.  It was more dangerous and stunning than we had ever imagined.  The shock of his young health – compromised – rocketed through the middle of our lives.  In its wake, it left an open field.  We could see further.  We had space. And people who loved us filled it. We got engaged.  I wrote a book.  Tim picked a part of the country he wanted to live in and we moved there, because we could.  And flowers grew in the open valley – delicate gifts that taught us to trust the world, our vulnerable beginnings in it.

BIO: Kara Norman lives in northern Colorado with her husband and dog, where she works as an administrative assistant during the week and watches birds at all times.  She writes about staying true as an artist on her blog Sut Nam Bonsai (www.SutNamBonsai.blogspot.com), and works with a fellow writing friend on their art project Grizzly & Golden (www.GrizzlyandGolden.blogspot.com).  She has written a novel, for which she currently seeks publication, and is at work on a memoir of how writing healed her life.

 

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Relationship Questionnaire

 

Sometimes I wonder if the divorce rate would be so high if we could tailor make a questionnaire for our love interests to fill out before we step into the abyss of a serious relationship.  I’m not talking about a Match.com sort of questionnaire.  I’m talking take-no-prisoners, pedal-to-the-metal, full-frontal, in- your-face, cut-to-the-chase, head-for-the-hills stuff you would only dare to say out loud in the woods, walking alone with your dogs.  Of course, I’d NEVER actually have the guts/gall to do it.  But making a personal, private list might serve some purpose.

Stuff like:  (indulge/humor me a little here)

1)
Do you like to kiss?  If so, do you consider it merely foreplay?

2)
Precisely how many hours a week would you like to be with me?

Please break that down into the below categories:

Talking/ Doing chores/ Having sex/ Cooking/ Watching TV/Cultural outings/ Social outings/ Dates/ Family time/ In-law time/ Physical activities (not including sex)

3)
Do you call your mother?

4)
Do you tell your father you love him?

5)
What’s the worst thing that happened to you as a child?  What’s the best thing?

6)
Who is your best friend and why?

7)
Has anyone close to you ever died and how did you deal with grief?

8)
Do you like to sing and/or play an instrument?

9)
Do you care if I gain weight?  If so how much is too much?

10)
What is your filthiest habit?  Do you drink?  If so, do you get mean when you drink? How much do you drink?  How about smoking?  Drugs?

11)
Would you say that your family of origin is dysfunctional?  If so, rank it on a scale of 1-10, ten being totally cray cray.

12)
What books are on your bedside table?

13)
What’s the kinkiest thing you’ve done, sexually?

14)
What’s your deal-breaker as far as break-up goes?

15)
Have you ever cheated on a girlfriend/spouse?

16)
In a pinch, do you lie to get yourself out of a sticky situation?

17)
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

18)
Have you ever stolen anything?  If so, what was it?  How did you feel afterward?

19)
What kind of body are you planning to have when you’re fifty?  Seventy?  Do you plan on making it to 80?  What about 90?  If so, what’s your strategy?

20)
Do you want children?  If one had some sort of handi-cap how would you handle that?

21)
Why do you like me?  Give me at least ten reasons but no more than twenty because then I’ll know you’re bullshitting me.  (You’re about to run for the hills, aren’t you.  I can see it in your eyes.  Hang on—I’ll change my tone.  I’m flexible that way FYI.)

22)
On road trips, are you generally a conversationalist?  On road trips do you like to play music?  Can you take LOUD?

23)
Could you love a woman who listens to opera?  (not on road trips)

24)
Could you love a woman who still listens to the Indigo Girls?   (maybe on a road trip)

25)
Could you love a woman who ummm…still listens to James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and…ummm…in a rare moment…John Denver?  Or who would make a mixed CD with the aforementioned…and maybe throw in a little Violent Femmes and Nirvana for flavor?  NOT that I have ever done that.

26)
Could you love a woman who ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm—hang on I need a glass of wine for this one:  knows every word to A Chorus Line, Godspell,
Pippin, My Fair Lady, Annie, and uh…don’t worry, not Phantom or Les Miz…but maybe (slurp) Cats?

27)
Could you love a woman who would publicly mock you if you wore tightie whities?

28)
(but let’s get back to you)  Do you watch Saturday Night Live?

29)
What about Ellen?

30)
What about Jimmy Fallon?

31)
What about Glee?

32)
What about Smash?

33)
What about golf on television?  On a sunny day.  All day.  In August.

34)
What’s your Rorschach for parades?

35)
Have you ever or would you ever wear clogs?

36)
Have you ever or would you ever live in a foreign country?  Like say, Italy?  Tuscany, to be specific?  In a villa?

37)
Would you ride horses with me?

38)
Would you ever want me to play golf with you?  And if so, would you be kind?

39)
Can you shoot a decent game of pool?

40)
Do you pray?

41)
Do you know what foie gras is?  If so, do you like it?  Because that might be a deal breaker for me if you don’t.

42)
Would you ever be angry with me if I left crumbs on the counter?

43)
What about dishes in the sink?

44)
What about large piles of laundry rivaling Mt. Hood?

45)
Do you expect your woman to…you know…wax…down…there?

46)
Do you give foot massages?

47)
If your son or daughter was gay, how would you handle it?

48)
What are your top three places on earth that you want to visit?

49)
What’s on your bucket list?

50)
I repeat, do you watch golf on television?  How much ESPN do you watch in general?

51)
Do you eat bacon?  (See the foie gras question)

52)
What’s your favorite swear word and how often do you say it and do you say it a lot when you have sex?

53)
Would you ever burp/fart at the dinner table?

54)
Do you believe that chivalry is dead?

55)
DO YOU SNORE?  If so, would you be opposed to separate bedrooms?

56)
What did you get on the SAT’s?

57)
Did you think your last partner (if applicable) was better for having spent that part of their life with you?

58)
What do you think about marriage vows?

59)
What do you think about marriage?

60)
What do you think about divorce?

61)
When’s the last time you got called an asshole and why?

62)
What is your relationship like with yourself?

63)
Have you ever been arrested?

64)
Have you ever hit a person or gotten in a physical fight?  Do you have a bad temper?  Are you passive aggressive?

65)
How emotionally dependent are you, in relationships?

66)
Do you cry?

67)
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?

68)
What is your sense of God?

69)
Wanna start this off by going to therapy with me?

Yeah…better off leaving it to the walk with the dogs in the woods.  But kind of a fun exercise.  You might want to give it a whirl.

(Thank you to my Facebook friends for helping me conjure this list.)

Yrs.

Laura

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Wabi Sabi Love

I am so honored to be in Arielle Ford’s new book, Wabi Sabi Love.  (In the same chapter as Michelle Obama, no less!)  This book takes ancient principles like:  To abbrieviate suffering, practice empathy, compassion, and surrender for both yourself and your partner…and merges them with modern living. 

This is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.  Here are some inspiring words from Arielle:

 

Give Your Mate Amnesty For Valentines Day (its free!) By Arielle Ford

Sexy lingerie, romantic dinners, long stem roses, a box of chocolates, and champagne…these are typical Valentines Day gifts. As lovely and appreciated as these gifts can be, what if this year you gave your beloved something that they never expected, something that will make both of you happy and is totally free? Here’s what I’m suggesting: Give your beloved amnesty for the one thing you most complain, argue, or harass them about.

www.wabisabilove.com/vow

Decide right now to figure out how to create a new story for yourself about that thing your mate does that drives you crazy….find the beauty and perfection in it, and then GIFT them with your vow to finally let it go. Whether it’s the wet towels on the floor, the toilet seat left up, the dirty dishes in the sink, the constant texting at the dinner table, squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube, forgetting to take out the trash, interrupting you when you are on the phone, or whatever transgression you have deemed unbearable.

If you are feeling really stuck, ask yourself these questions: How many more times am I willing to allow this situation to annoy me? What payoff do I get by finding fault in my partner? What does being “annoyed” keep me from having? Where did I learn to be annoyed by other people’s behavior?

NEXT: Imagine that your mate’s annoying behavior exists solely to teach you how to become a more loving and compassionate person. And then, upon reflection, please write down three (or more) gifts of the offending behavior. Looking for the gifts is an invaluable skill in a world in which we can’t control others behavior. While our partners may never change the quirks and idiosyncrasies that we find maddening, we can change our perceptions of them. This Valentines Day make a shift from “annoyed to enjoyed” and let your beloved know by sharing this free, very special amnesty vow with them www.wabisabilove.com/vow

 

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Certainly Uncertain

As published on the Huffington Post, and Relationship Advice Cafe

I know my way around uncertainty. Namely in the form of marital crisis. I wrote an essay and a memoir about a particular season of my life in which my husband wanted out of the marriage. I felt that he was in a deeper crisis of self, brought on by career failure. And rather than “kick him to the curb,” as so many have told me would be their reaction, I chose to hold the space for him to get through it. I had limits. I wasn’t going to go on like that forever. But I loved him and had twenty years invested in the life we’d created together—two wonderful children, a farmhouse in Montana, a life we’d so deliberately built. I privately gave him six months and stood back while he behaved in ways that challenged me to the core. I practiced living in the present moment, focusing on what I could control and what I could create, letting go of the rest and trying not to take his actions personally. My commitment was not to suffer emotionally. This was his issue, not mine, but when you are in a marriage, the actions of your spouse are likely to ultimately affect your emotional and even physical safety, especially the overall climate of the family. It was my job to keep my children’s life as normal and safe as possible, hold down the “fort,” as it were, and communicate with them throughout. We can love and respect someone, but not necessarily love and respect their choices. Life isn’t always black and white. Crisis does not have to be your undoing. These were the concepts I tried to model for them.

It was a fine line I walked…between taking a stand for myself and my own well-being, (as well as that of my children), and giving my husband the space to work through his crisis. Three years later, things are not all tied up in a pink bow. Not at all. I don’t look at marriage like that. Marriage is about ebb and flow. And some marriages are meant to end. Mine has never been a strategy to stay married. Mine has been a philosophy about how to live your life during hard times, especially when you are dealing with rejection—something I know all too well from being a writer and dealing with the publishing world. People like to use my story as an example of how to save a marriage, but to me, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about living in the grey zone and how to cope, moment by moment.

For whatever reason, I have been given the opportunity to learn much about crisis and have often asked myself: How long is too long? When is it time to move on? Even if you still hold hope that your spouse is going to heal and come back as an equal loving partner, at what point is it taking a toll on your well-being and even your health? At what point do you model graceful endings to your children? There is no rule. There is no road map. Each marriage has its complexities and mysteries that cannot be understood from the outside. Or even sometimes from the inside. It’s a fruitless pursuit to judge that which you do not understand, even though people seem to consider it a lusty sport on the internet.
I do know this for sure: life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. Ever-uncertain. When the kids were little, it felt static. My life was measured by nap times and play dates. Now with one in high school and one in middle school, each day brings last minute “surprises”: “Mom, I just remembered, I have a soccer meeting tonight at 7:00.” There goes the roast chicken/dinner around the table fantasy. “Mom, can I spend the night at Ryan’s tonight and then go skiing tomorrow with his family?” There goes the family game night/popcorn fantasy.

It turns out that a lot of what I have built is in fact, a fantasy, or in laymen’s terms: goal-driven. And while those fantasies/goals might have been sustainable when the kids were little, they aren’t now. Everybody has their own needs now and voice them boldly…and we dance together to meet them, not always well. Life has turned into more of a democracy in our home than anything else. And there is always the knowledge that you just might get voted down. What was familiar and felt “safe” not long ago, has been replaced with surprises. Some bittersweet. I have been there for my children every step of the way. Very suddenly, that changed. The last two years I’ve been travelling, promoting my memoir and doing speaking engagements. I’ve worked a long long time for career success and on top of it, we need the money. Because I live in rural Montana, that means I can’t commute into New York City to do a reading at a library while the kids are at school, or pop up to Boston to speak at a fund-raising luncheon. It means that I am on tandem-airplanes, thousands of miles away from home and usually for at least three days. The constructs upon which I co-built this family are different now. We have been through upheaval. We have learned that upheaval is the natural course of life. It doesn’t have to be “bad” or scary or resisted. There is no such thing as the perfect family. But no matter what, we know that we love each other.

Life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. I have learned that when we accept the “groundlessness” of that, as the Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron says, when we breathe into it and find that there is actually comfort in the not-knowing, it’s easy to hold that space. For going slowly and not projecting into the future, worrying about the turns life might take. I read a quote recently: Something to the tune of—“if you worry about something and then it actually happens, then you’ve worried twice. And if it doesn’t happen, you’ve worried in vain.” I want to live my life like that. Not in an ode to what I had envisioned. But to what’s actually happening. Right now. In this moment. Certainly uncertain.

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I’d love to speak in your neck of the woods!

Sooo…some shameless self-promotion:  if your business, school, social group, club, library etc. is looking for a speaker who is all about empowerment…pick me!  Here’s the scoop:   http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/laura-munson

LAURA MUNSON

A writer for over 20 years, Laura Munson is the author of theNew York Times and international best-selling memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Passionate about “finding the intersection of heart and mind and craft on the page,” Munson shares a story that explores marital crisis and imparts a message of empowerment, the importance of living in the present, and the necessity of claiming responsibility for one’s own happiness – no matter what is going on in life.

It all began when Munson penned an essay, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” for the “Modern Love” column of The New York Times in 2009. Stunned by the firestorm reaction she received, Munson emerged as the face behind an essay that ignited dinner talk, office chat, and book groups around the globe. A short version of a memoir she had written during a rough time in her marriage, the essay touched people with its powerful honesty. And they wanted more. After having written for two decades, having completed 14 novels, and having endured countless rejections, Munson had a book deal within 48 hours.  Her memoir has been published in nine countries.

Munson’s work has appeared in the New York Times ”Modern Love” column, the New York Times Magazine ”Lives” column, O. MagazineWoman’s DayRedbook, Good Housekeeping, More magazine, Shambhala Sun, The Sun, and Big Sky Journal, as well as on HuffingtonPost.com and through many other media outlets. She has been on two national book tours with appearances on Good Morning America, The Early Show, London’s This Morning, Australia’s Sunrise, various NPR stations, and many other television and radio shows, including Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House radio program.

TOPICS

How to Turn Crisis Into Personal Freedom

How to Get What You Want by Getting Out of Your Own Way

The Power of Story in Times of Crisis

Please call 800.225.4575 or contact The American Program Bureau for more information on this speaker’s speech topics.

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The Day After Valentine’s Day

I’ve really enjoyed this back and forth with Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project.  I hope you will pass along his positive energy and the way that he champions men and holds them to their best selves.  Here’s is the last in our series.  Hope you enjoy.  yrs. Laura

In the last of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Do men and women mean the same thing when they say ‘I love you’?

MUNSON: I have to believe that the notion and experience of love are not gender-specific, nor are they culture-specific. I wrote a book about what happened when my husband told me he didn’t love me anymore and wasn’t sure he ever did. I didn’t believe him and chose to give him room to work through and heal from what I believed was a crisis of self brought on by sudden career failure. And he did heal—and we’re still together. I am deeply grateful for that. Some marriages are meant to end. I didn’t feel that ours was—and it turned out that he didn’t either.

I have heard from people around the world, married and unmarried, men and women, gay and straight, responding with gratitude for my book’s message, which is one of personal responsibility in crisis—one of non-reaction and a commitment to finding the freedom of the moment, no matter what’s going on in your life and no matter the outcome of the ordeal. In an interview with a reporter from Tel Aviv, I asked, “I wonder how Israelis will respond to this message.” She paused and said, “I don’t care where you’re from or what religion you are or what social group, the words ‘I don’t love you’ are universally ones we fear and dread.”

I have found that to be true, so I believe that the reverse of those words is just as universal. We long for the words “I love you,” whether we are women or men. We long for the fulfillment and intimacy of relationships. But that “I love you,” in order to be authentic, has to start with the person who is expressing that emotion. That “I love you” has to begin within. If you don’t love yourself, however are you to love me?

♦◊♦

MATLACK: I’m with you on the ideal of love being universal, across gender lines. But the way we get to that ideal is different, requiring that we overcome gender-specific obstacles. I have no idea if it is genetic or learned, but little girls and little boys grow up with very different conceptions of what romantic love is all about. I grant that there are as many different variations on the theme as there are human beings, but in general, women see love as a thing at the center of their existence and men see it as something to be conquered, dealt with, and at worst lied about. Your husband’s story, like my own, points to the difficulty guys have just being honest with others and ourselves when it comes to love.

When we’re young, a guy saying he loves a woman might just mean he wants to sleep with her. My sense, though I only have secondhand reports on this, is that young women generally perceive that, for guys, sex is an expression of love—rather than the other way around.

Guys eventually warm to the idea that there might be just one woman out there that will meet all their needs—but the word love still scares us. I have heard it too many times to count: guys think that if they fall in love and commit, they are giving up options for other women.

But it isn’t about the sex or about the lack of freedom, it’s about the fear of looking ourselves in the mirror and feeling disconnected to the guy staring back at us. I don’t think guys cheat because they think it’s a good idea to sleep around on their wives and kids. Inability to commit isn’t the cause of infidelity; it’s a product of fear and self-loathing. As you suggest, you can’t hate yourself and love someone else.

Some guys never get there. But by the time we reach 46—which is where both my wife and I are now—we have the emotional maturity to see the true and lasting benefits of love and commitment. Guys eventually catch up with the smarter and more mature gender, to see ourselves worthy and capable of giving (and receiving) love without doubt.

Guys like me know we are lucky to cuddle in bed with the perfect woman—in other words, one who has seen the good, the bad, and the very ugly, and stuck around despite it all. And when we say we are “in love,” it is with an equal conviction to that of our female counterparts.

♦◊♦

MUNSON: I find it so true and so unfortunate that the words I love you are so loaded—manipulation, transference, co-dependence being some of it. I agree that emotional maturity comes with age and long-term relationships. I always tell my teenage daughter that people are not capable of being equal loving partners until they are much older—and to focus on her female friendships. I didn’t make that choice when I was younger, and spent most of my time with longterm boyfriends. While I don’t regret those relationships, I do wish I’d skipped the adolescent drama and focused on nurturing friendships instead. When I said I love you back then, it was very different than the I love you I offer now to my husband of 20 years. That I love you is loaded in a different way. It means Thank you, I respect you, I believe in you, I believe in us.

♦◊♦

Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

Why do young women and older men get along so well?

Are stay-at-home dads macho?

How important is physical appearance to longterm fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage—great sex or fighting fair?

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