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Finding Your Voice: The 2017 Haven Winter Blog Series

 

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  Were we told from a very young age that we should be seen but not heard, or that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, or act like a show off?  Or that we should only speak when we were spoken to?  When we expressed ourselves in a way that didn’t fit the mold, were we punished?  Were our mouths washed out with soap…maybe even just for saying the word “no?” or “why?” Maybe we endured verbal or physical abuse over our words from the very beginning and so we learned to keep them inside of us and maybe they have never felt safe in the world ever since.  Maybe we’ve learned how “to be a parrot just to cite a silly rule,” in the words of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Maybe our words were considered inconvenient for the people around us, or even dangerous, and they deemed us their enemy, making it their full focus to destroy our words and the integrity around them.  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Writing Retreat alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

p.s.  As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

Haven Writing Retreats 2017 Schedule

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreatgo to the Contact Us button here.

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The Merrier Me

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When laughing didn’t hurt…

Like a lot of people this weekend
who opted to tuck in front of the fire in lieu of holiday parties, I watched Rudolph, which always stresses me out and I’m not sure why I go, “awwwwwwwwww” when I see it’s going to be on television because that abominal snowmonster still freaks me out and all those sad toys with Rankin Bass puppet mouths, and then Frosty (ditto—he melts!  A little girl cries next to the puddle once known as his former self, and there’s a cloying bad guy that he can’t shake with a weird rabbit helper—I forget what happens in the end.  I think he moves to Brooklyn.)

download (1)And then the healing began.  Mary Poppins.  Two hours of Mary and Bert and tuppence and votes for women and evening govnah and magic umbrellas and bottomless carpet bags and sidewalk chalk painting portals into barber shop penguins and carousels with real horses and hilarious helium tea on the ceiling and and and.  Even though she leaves them in the end and they all have to find their inner Mary Poppins.download

The only thing of it is:  I laughed.  And that is a physical response to emotions I haven’t let myself feel for two months.  The who what when where why how of it has to do with a horse and my tendency to act over-confident when I’m scared.  And a loose cinch.  In short, he zigged, I zagged.  Bottom line:  if you’re going to ride horses, you’re going to end up on the ground sometimes.  You just hope you don’t hear actual bones cracking.  Three of them.  Ribs.

If you’ve broken a rib, you are now making the face I make when I see the abominal snowmonster.
download (2)It suuuuuuucks.  Breaths are reduced to small sips, coughing and sneezing are a delicacy you can only succumb to if you can’t not, sighing is not recommended, sleeping in any position at all is nearly unattainable (I seriously almost bought a recliner and put it in the living room), talking with any animation is ish-y, singing is better left to a dull hum, crying—meh…and laughter?  Laughter is verboten, like the Burgermeister Meisterburger has some sort of hold on you.

You know that kind of laughter that happens at weddings and funerals and graduation speeches that you can’t control?  It has total occupation of your diaphragm?  Well, that’s one of my central goals in life.  That kind of belly-womping primordial caccination.  With snorts in-between.  If you can’t breath deeply, you can’t pull it off, not by any stretch.  So you have a choice:  Laugh your way into scar tissue that will remind you of your stupid horse tricks for the rest of your life when you climb a ladder or reach for your shoes.  Or go deadpan.  Poker face.  In short, I’ve been officially depressed.  I lead retreats.  I needed to go on one.  Just not in my bed for two months, groaning.bdd9bf5f53c4df963b2e91e3a5b2e939

And now that it’s the holidaze, the Kay jewelers people don’t help.  Or those Folgers ads.  Or all the perfect Facebook Christmas trees.  Or the families in matching sweaters on my Christmas cards.  Or the fact that I haven’t gotten a Christmas card out this year and probably won’t.  In my mind, it’s still October.  Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened.  I’m finally going out for a ride on my horse after a grueling fall work schedule.  I’m tired.  I feel sorry for myself.  And I’m going to do something nice for myself, damnit.  He jigged.  I jagged.  And I watched fall become winter from my bed for the most part of two months.

But I’m not writing this to complain.  I’m writing all of this to say that I now know what gratitude really means.  Bless you, cup of tea that took me twenty minutes to make, including the hard launch from bed– the roll, the sidle, the squirm, the shuffle, the sit, and the big one:  the stand…the walk…and the stairs…the stairs, the pick up the tea pot, the fill it with water, the ow ow ow ow ow all the way back up the stairs, back to sit, to the slow timber back into the pillows.  Oh.  And then there’s the tea.  Waaaaaaay over there on the nightstand, a century of inches away.  “Forget it.  Let it get cold.  I’ve just done the Iditorod.”  And there she lay.  Watching the sun move around the house and the moon rise, and all of her responsibilities fall like the leaves she never got to on the lawn, and the snow that’s coming, that came, and all the people she’ll have to ask to help her do simple things and all the shame around one stupid moment on a horse that she was planning on riding every day for eight straight weeks of much-needed horse therapy.  Her new craving:  Epsom salts.  And oh, that cold cup of tea.  If only someone would come in with a fresh steaming cup and fold her laundry…  Still, I have never been more grateful for just being able to get up and make the tea, never mind drink it.

That said, all that woe-is-me managed to loop itself around to a world of hurt that I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve never taken anti-depressants, and for the first time, I seriously considered it.  And then, just as I was thinking this would be my permanent world…I caught myself laughing at something on Jimmy Fallon.  And it hurt…so good.  And I realized what was really wrong.  It wasn’t the horselessness or the shame or the frustration or even the pain.  It was the lack of laughter in my life.  Without laughter, I was living in a colorless world of fair-to-middling.  I had untrained myself out of delight.  Joy.  Unabashed explosions of glee.  And it had to stop.  I am a laugher.  No matter what.  I needed to get back on that horse.  (The other one can wait.)

So on Saturday night, in my eighth week of recovery, my ribs more mended than not, with permission from Mary Poppins and her tea-time wack-wonkery, I let myself laugh.  Ecstatic laughing.  In hee hee hees and hoh hoh hohs and hah hah hahs.  It made LOL look like mere titter.  And man…did it feel good.  My whole being felt light and alive in a way it hasn’t for far too long.  I am so grateful for this simple and essential human ability.  I love to laugh, indeed.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

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***According to Mayo clinic laughter is just what the doctor ordered!

***PS.  In all that lying around, I did manage to write 150 pages of a book.  So there’s that.  #grateful

 

 

 

 

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What I Learned From My Personal Writing Retreat

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Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

 

That I can go for hours and not speak and don’t miss it at all (and that comes from someone who makes a living speaking).

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start talking to me in my dreams.

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start telling the story, even when I don’t want them to take the direction they want to go.  Best to trust them.

That taking a walk on a personal writing retreat, with nothing else on your mind (family, kids, friends, career, bills, taxes) means that you are writing as you wander.  And when you get back to your book, you have much to transcribe.

Same with eating.

Same with bathing.

That I can write in a noisy café, even though I live in the silence of Montana.  There are no distractions when you are deeply into your material.  Even when they’re renovating a Victorian across the alley.

That even if you have support for your writing from your loved ones and colleagues…no one is going to do this for you.  No one is going to give you this time, pay for it, kick you out the door.  And if you actually have someone like that in your life, it’s still you and your book wherever you go.  You have choices in that space.  Make good ones.  (Ie: stay away from buttons unless they are on your computer, in your book document)

That the voice in my head which helps me make those choices is kind.  When I’m at home, that voice is not necessarily kind.  It’s usually frustrated and short on temper and so it often sounds more like a football coach.  In this solitary, suspended, writing space…she is loving and gentle.  She says things like, “You can do this.  Good for you.  Open your heart.  Tune into your intuition.  You know where this book needs to go.”  I’m going to bring her home with me.

That I get a lot of exercise and eat really great food when I’m in this space.  At home I often don’t get any exercise at all, besides chopping vegetables, stirring, sweeping, making bag lunches, doing dishes, and folding laundry.  And I often forget to eat.  I’m going to bring this regime back home too.

That lollygagging in bookstores looking at coffee table books on artists, and going to art house indie matinees are things that I’ve stopped doing and they feed me profoundly.  They are not just folly.  And what’s wrong with a little folly anyway?  Especially folly that feeds your muse.  TV does not feed my muse.  Reading the newspaper does not feed my muse.  Watching Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van” does.

That this isn’t scary at all, this being alone with my muse and my book and its characters and plot.  That I know exactly how to do this.  That I’m not lonely in the least.  That I honor and love my writing practice and it honors and loves me.  That my creative well is deep and the water is life-sustaining.  That tea is a gentle friend for this sort of experience.  And the Bach Cello Suites.  And Krishna Das.  And Gregorian Chant.  Same with Frankincense essential oil.  And baths with lavender.  And a small notebook and good ink pen that you leave by your bed, and keep in your purse.

That it’s okay to be in a major urban wonderland, and not see sites, friends, go to the newest trendy restaurant, the best show or exhibit, or to frankly leave the three blocks where you are staying.  That all you need for this specific purpose, is faith.  It’s not really about the writing, is it.  If I said it’s about channeling the Divine, would that be too lofty?  So what.  It is.  And sometimes we have to leave home to do just that.  I’d like to bring that home with me too.  We’ll see…

…Thank you, San Francisco.  Homing back to Montana….letter_pen

 

 

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Haven Winter Blog Series #6: “Giving Yourself Permission”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

Every winter I give my blog over to alums of Haven Writing Retreats who have all come to Montana to dig deeply into their creative self-expression, using the powerful and transformational tool that is writing.  Leading Haven Writing Retreats is my way of giving the support I was either too stubborn or too scared (likely the latter) to give myself in all my years of writing.  It is my deepest pleasure and honor to offer this powerful program, which is really a writing retreat and a writing workshop in one, to people who long to learn how to write a memoir, how to write a novel, how to become a writer, how to write a story, how to start a book, or simply how to find their unique voices and stories…and set them free!  The Haven Writing Retreats community is all about continued support, and the annual Haven Winter Blog series is one way that we offer just that.  My blog is their blog, and in it we parse the creative questions that so many of us have.

This year’s theme is one of my favorites so far:  ”How do we give ourselves the permission to be creative in the first place…and what does that look like?”

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way 

so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Post #1

Here I Am

“You have permission to be you, speak your mind, tell your truth!”

Said the voice in my head.

“Who’s that?” I wonder

Setting me up, telling me lies, urging me to be a fool

again and again.

“Please listen, it’s me, your real self, your best you, your soul’s voice.”

I hear the faintest whisper

“Who?” I grasp at the thought

With false hope, resigned to a story that’s not mine

time after time.

“You make the rules, you’re ready to shine, it’s your time!”

She shouts at the sky.

I remember you, I pause

My joy, my passion, my cause…I see you there

Twirling your hair, biting your nails, discovering your worth.

“Yes! That’s it! Come on now my love, be out loud, you’re enough!”

She says with some fire.

“Will you take my hand?” I beg

It’s so hard to be brave, make my way, share my gifts with this world

Risk my heart and be sure.

“Of course I will! Let’s go, now Feng Shui your soul, make us believe,”
She beams as we jump together and soar

“Here I am!” I exclaim

I have something to say, something to give, something to share

I dare to be more!

 “Now you’re on track, aligned and on purpose!”

She pushes from behind
“I’m going, I’m going,” I resist

And the words flow from my core through my wrist to the pen

Here I am!

Here I am.

- Laura Probert www.LauraProbert.com  & facebook.com/KickAssWarriorGoddess

Post #2

Permission to Be Juicy

How do I give myself permission to live life creatively, have a voice, tell my stories and set them free? In other words, how do I show up for my creative self expression on a consistent basis.

It all began with Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy—SARK—and the advice I read in her book “Succulent Wild Woman.” In the shape of the letters and vibrant colors printed in this book

I soaked up her advice: “Bathe Naked by Moonlight”; “Paint Your Soul”; “Let Your Creative Spirit Rush – Flow – Tumble…Out of You.”

A friend gave me this book when I was in need of something fun and crazy and giving myself permission to live in the embrace of a warm bath with mango fizzies and Boccelli crooning love songs in Italian.

“That’s nice,” you might say. “But what does it mean when you feel blocked?”

In my aerie in the back room of a B and B I owned in Annapolis, I read that book every night. Then I scribbled fragments of gratitude in green ink while pink cups of magnolia blossoms danced on the ends of elephant-gray Us of their branches. I pressed a pencil between blue lines in the same room when freezing rain in diagonal pewter streaks blurred browned blossoms who dared to bloom too soon and winter recaptured spring

It is to that determination, that woman of fourteen years ago, I turn whenever I feel as though my imagination is parched and any creative ideas I thought I captured in my gossamer net of magical evocative words seem to blow away.

Why that woman? Because her (my) marriage was crumbling. My hopes for a dream time of being a princess or famous personage of an old city of brick sidewalks and eras of gracious living were shrinking in doubt and fear about  my own ability to survive inside of or outside of a relationship of decades. While I was watching my partner bore inside of himself on his own voyage of darkness, the bamboo leaves in the garden next door whispered in the snow and  a hawk waited on my fence for me to notice him and the night air delivered spice-scented sleep on salted breezes. Odd muses perhaps, but real.

My “what ifs?” pale in comparison to the notes I wrote myself every night before turning out the light—notes of something, anything for which I could express my gratitude. “Dear Carolyn,” I would write, “today I watched blue crabs swimming up to the surface of the bay by the city dock. The air smelled like sea.” Or “Today, after the rain, heart-shaped puddles lined my walk on the way down to meet a friend for coffee.

If I could write then, as the many faces of despair surfaced like black and white photographs appearing after negatives are exposed to paper and then washed in developer, I can find words now.

“But what if you can’t find the woman in the back room of the inn now?” you might ask.

Then I look for her outside my window in the rose-gold Alpen glow after a winter sunset. Or open a window and listen to aspen leaves quivering like green castanets. Or, stare at Orion while soaking in my hot tub and pray for just one word. I often feel dull when I can’t come up with anything new for “moon” beyond “ the moon is a pearl button.” But then one word leads to another and another and after my skin shrivels and all the moisture is sucked out of it by warm water, I dry off, grab a robe and pick up a pen and notebook. “Moon” I might write and then keep doodling and noodling while I play old songs in my head and wish for a fairy to tap me on my feet with her wand and shazam! I could think of something no one has ever thought of before for “moon.”

If the moon is full, I “breast” the moon first and let its light—reflected light—glance off my skin as though I’m wearing nothing but voluptuous pearls.

“Eat mangoes naked. Lick the juice off your arms.”(SARK) I did that once. (Note-try this in a bathtub.)

Maybe a fairy did tap me on my feet—at my birth. Perhaps she gave me an extra dose of some exotic spice. A spice that shakes itself all over me when I feel like my creative self is hiding in a bear den and will bite me if I try to pull her out.

Am I consistent? No.

While it is true that no one on a regular basis is saying “hey, that poem you wrote was great!” I still believe in fairies. Something whispers “Write!” Therefore, I do.

- Carolyn Hopper

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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Give a Dream

11999725_10152969292486266_5989582988248983326_oHappy Holidays, everybody!  Haven Writing Retreats in Montana is a powerful, often life-changing experience that we want to share with the people who want it most. Thanks to Go Fund Me, and Fortua.com, you can help send writers to Haven in 2016!  

The first scholarship is inspired by Haven Writing Retreat alum Kathryn Stockett, writer of the best-selling novel and Oscar nominated movie,”The Help.”  Kathryn has set up a Gofundme account where you can offer a donation to help a writer come to Haven!  To donate, click here.

Here’s what Kathryn has to say:

The Dream: 
There is a person out there with the dream to write- they’re burning up with words to write – but they can’t afford the advice, time, and encouragement every one of us needs to write our story.   I think it would be so cool to send one writer with The Dream to a Haven Writing Retreat.    

 The idea sprung from hearing about an airline clerk in 1956 who knew she had a story inside her but she couldn’t afford to take time off work to write it.  So her friends gave her the money to go write for one year.  Oh what friends.  She wrote To Kill A Mockingbird.  

In 2002, somebody did it for me- just for a month- but I got the advice and the encouragement I needed and it changed everything.  I am ever thankful for that gift.

This isn’t a year, or even a month we’re giving, it’s just one weekend, but I think it could truly change someone’s life.  What’s even more magical is it would come from  writers and readers like you.  What friends.

If we make the goal, Laura Munson will take submissions for the scholarship.  The money will cover the workshop, food and lodging.  This is just a one-time thing, one scholarship, one person.  I hope you’ll help me help someone reach their dream.

Blessings,
Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help 

The second scholarship is for two writers in need, through a wonderful adventure travel website called Fortua.com:  Molly Carpenter and Terri Mellott-Gross both dearly want to attend my Haven Writing Retreat from February 24-28, 2016.

I’d be deeply grateful if you’d consider making a contribution to this campaign by clicking on this link:

In exchange for making a contribution you can receive some great perks and you’ll also have a huge impact on the lives of two wonderful women and aspiring writers!

Without your financial backing Molly and Terri will not be able to attend the retreat.

Meet Molly Renee Carpenter:

I am a Portland State student living in an eensy treehouse above the city. It’s just me, my cat, and my words. In 2011, I started a Word document for daily musings. It has gone through active spurts, dry seasons, entries with excessive cursing, and entries that led to a lot of tears being smeared on my keyboard (they have since dried but I remember they were there). It has never been printed. It has only been seen with someone else’s eyes once, by accident. This summer, it reached 100 pages. Its name has never changed, but the girl writing it sure has.

When I was in fourth grade I read “Little House on the Prairie” and my teacher made all us kids write a synopsis of each chapter. The paper we were given to use had outlines of covered carriages printed on them, the inside of the carriages were lined and we were meant to fill each carriage with each chapter’s synopsis. I remember being sent to the library multiple times throughout the class because I kept running out of paper. I was the only one who ran out of paper. I never could understand how those other kids could fit their words in such a small space. This is the first time I thought I might be different – with words, I might be different.

Sometimes it takes me thirty minutes to write an Instagram post. But between the chaos that is 18 class credits and a full-time job, that thirty minutes spent crafting two sentences will make my heart flutter with purpose. I want to thank each and every backer for this opportunity and believing in me. I know this will be a life changing experience. #ThankYou #SoGrateful

You can find me on Instagram @mollyrcarpenter

Meet Terri Mellott-Gross:

I am a Certified Intuitive Life Coach. I have lived through challenges I candidly wasn’t sure I’d get through and yet, with inspiration from others and finding meaning and purpose in the challenges themselves, I rose above these events to become a much stronger and happier person. Challenges included a difficult childhood, a 25-year marriage that ended in divorce, a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer, and the death of my mother when I was a girl.

These experiences inspired many questions in me: Why are we here? Is life supposed to be such a struggle? What is the meaning of life?

For more than 20 years I searched for answers and learned we live in a loving universe. We are connected to this source of love and abundance at all times. We are being divinely guided at all times if only we would pay attention. I now know that life is magical, it is a gift and there is nothing that we can’t accomplish.

My goal in attending the Haven Writing Retreat is to further explore my voice and how to share my life journey in writing. To each and every backer, I thank you. Your support is a gift and I will make the most of every moment of this gift. Thank You. #VeryGrateful

You can learn more at LovinYourLife

During this season of giving, please rally to support writers, forward this blog post to your friends, and share the spirit of the season. Your support will have a significant and positive impact on these people’s lives.

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

Love,

Laura and the Haven Team

To learn more about Haven Writing Retreats click here.

2016 Schedule– all in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana!

February 24-28
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

LMWritingHaven

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What to say when someone dies

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Featured in Huffington Post 50

Now booking for our 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in Montana

February 24-28 (full with wait list)
June 8-12
June 22-25
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

For Robin, Jim, Jared, Ryan, Mary Beth, and all those who have lost loved ones in Paris this week– with so much love

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,

Laura205

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Particulate Matter– a Lesson in Surrender

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images…This essay is dedicated to anyone who lost their home or business to forest fire this summer.  Or whose property is still in peril.  It was originally published in the Mars Hill Review.

I forgot about this essay until the smoke from the fires burning around the West put me on a kind of house arrest this week.  All the windows were closed, every fan was on, and I longed for the fresh Montana air that I so love.  It reminded me of a perilous fire season in the early 2000′s and I searched through my files until I found this essay.  The baby in it is now a junior in high school, the five year old, a junior in college.  It was in the early days of my motherhood and I felt raw and scared and protective.  There were forest fires raging close to our beloved Montana home, and I was beside myself with the feeling of helplessness.  I was still mostly a city transplant.  I wasn’t completely resigned to what I now accept as the natural order of things in the wilderness.  Thankfully, the man-made structures in our valley escaped destruction that summer.  And thankfully, back here in 2016, the smoke cleared out with last night’s rain, the windows are open, and the air is fresh.  We can all breathe deeply again.  Reading this essay brings me back to a time when anything was possible, good or bad, and I was new in the field of surrender.  Fifteen years later, I am glad I know that to be in the “flow” is simply to know that there is a “flow” in the first place.  Enjoy!  

Particulate Matter    by Laura Munson  (written in 2000, published in the Mars Hill Review, Issue 22)

Montana is burning, again.  Outside is a slur of orange and floating ash that looks like we are living on the set of a Sci-fi B-movie from the Sixties.  The green grocer says it looks like a Jehovah’s Witness church marquee come true:  the world is ending.  The world is ending and all the Hippies are walking around wearing gas masks as if they will be the chosen race.  The farmers are harvesting their alfalfa crops, lungs and all.  I guess they figure they will meet their maker first.  To me it looks like life inside an old sepia-toned photograph with no one smiling except the baby.

My baby doesn’t know not to smile either.  He is ten weeks old—as old as the fires that burn in Lolo, Werner Peak, Moose Mountain, Big Creek near Glacier National Park and on and on.  One fire burns one thousand acres and counting, just eleven miles away from our house.  Another burns 14,166 acres, northwest of a town called Wisdom.  I close the newspaper and hold my baby tight.  Please God, don’t let our valley burn.download

AM radio has political pundits spouting off against environmentalists—mad that forests have not been thinned in the name of owls and small rodents, their threatened extinction a small price to have paid in exchange for the dozens of houses that burned in last summer’s fires, and the 900 houses state-wide that wait, evacuated, their denizens on cots in high school gymnasiums.  Others think it’s Conspiracy Theory—that the feds are not fighting the fire with the man-power they could in the interest of turning a profit on salvage logging in land otherwise protected as endangered habitat.  Some say the firefighters are heroes.  Some say they are “money-grubbing opportunists” in an impossible war.  Some say that they should let the fires burn—that the only thing that will stop blazes of this magnitude is snow or days and days of heavy rain, and that the millions of dollars being spent on fire lines and air attack is not only a waste of money, but a serious threat to watersheds, and renders the forest less resilient to fire in the end.  Old timers I know who have seen fires rip through this valley before just lift their eyes unto the hills and nod the way you might if Ghandi was your commencement speaker—Ghandi, the same man who said, “Suffering is the badge of the human race.”  My baby sucks and rests and searches for his thumb and actually says “Goo.”

I find myself walking around the kitchen with a fly swatter, taking care of tiny black fates– things I can control.  And I find refuge there.  I can’t see the flames, but I see on the news that in one day the local fire– the Moose fire– has expanded from 4,700 acres to 14,000 acres, with one flame front running four miles in four hours, another cruising three-quarters of a mile in less than twelve minutes.  Even if I could see the flames, my garden hose is short.  I go out to my smoky garden and spend an hour watering a thirty-foot long by six-foot wide perennial bed, and two pots of tomatoes.  I put my faith in my still-green tomatoes.  I have to.  I cannot afford to sap my faith in tomatoes with my fear of fire.  They say they could rage until the October cool-down and it is only August.  They say that fires this big have minds of their own.images (5)

There is skittish solace in the mundane things that need to happen whether our twenty acres of Big Sky are consumed in flames or not.  The baby needs to be fed.  The toilet paper roll replaced.  The dishes washed.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembled for the five year old who will play hopscotch at summer camp today, unimpressed with the ratio of particulate matter to breathable air.  I try to ignore the hot wind that bends the cat tails in the marsh behind our house that in two months has gone from canoe-able pond with mating frogs and foraging Sandhill cranes and resting loons, to a dry, cracked vestige of grasshoppers and confused snails.  I try to ignore the fire bombers that drone overhead back and forth all day, driven by what I must deem as “heroes” in a war that we can only imagine.

I hold my baby and smell his head and think of all of us, living in the mundane despite the magnitude of mortality and belief and fear and faith.  I think of the tiny things that weave us together that we don’t think to talk about, but that engage the moral majority of our minutes here on earth.  Buttons, cups of coffee, socks and shoes.  And I want to cling to these things.  I want to dwell in the community of controllable things.  And instead of feeling their burden, I want to find the blessing there.  Not just because I am scared of fire.  Not just because I look into my baby’s eyes and wonder if our future will be long together, come fire or disease or what may.  But because the flames I cannot see remind me to love what I can love.  Or at the very least, to take the funnel clouds they leave in their skyward wake—sometimes climbing 40,000 feet– as part of the mystery that implores me to be content with my little place on earth.  My humanity.  My chores.  My grocery list.  But the smoke…the unseen flames…must I love them too?  Jim Harrison writes in his Cabin Poem:  I’ve decided to make up my mind/ about nothing, to assume the water mask,/ to finish my life disguised as a creek,/ an eddy, joining at night the full,/ sweet flow, to absorb the sky,/ to swallow the heat and cold, the moon/ and the stars, to swallow myself/ in ceaseless flow.

I struggle with this flow.  I struggle with my community of seens and unseens.
images (4)

Outside the wind picks up; it feels gratuitous.  Sinister.  I drop my garden hose, short as it is, and return to the cool, stale-aired house, windows shut tight for weeks now.  I pace like a caged cat, peering out the windows at the pitching and heaving lodge pole pines.  Lodge poles need the high heat of forest fire in order for their cones to drop their seeds.  If the lodge poles could pray, they would be praying for this exact wind.  Am I to accept our destruction for the sake of lodge poles?  Am I any kind of environmentalist—any kind of faithful servant of the Creator, or steward of Creation, if this is my prayer:  Please God, make the wind stop?  Am I to be bound only to the mundane by my faith?  And accept the rest as Higher Order?  The Natural Order of Things?  My own fate therein?  I am a twentieth century woman:  isn’t there something They can do about this?  Some button to push…some button to un-push?

You see, somewhere in this “flow,” I am a mother; it is my instinct to protect.  I know that for me to attempt to fight the fire is fruitless.  What is my fight, then?  My meditation?  My prayer?  Can I be like Arjuna the warrior and fight, as the Hindu God Vishnu instructs, without thoughts of “fruits,” “with spirit unattached?”  Can I find Vishnu’s “meditation centered inwardly and seeking no profit…fight?”  Is my fight to be simply in the preservation of the tiny things that have been proven win-able in the ten digits of my human hands?  Sure Job had to give it all up, but must we all?  Must we at least be willing?  I scrub, I brush, I boil and bake—little strokes of faith—little battles won.  But I am not serene.  I am not surrendered.

I struggle with surrender.

The writer Annie Dillard in her Teaching a Stone to Talk finds God in a rock.  Is my Creator one who puts a rock, a lodge pole, before me?  Before my children?  Before this bounteous 20 acres of Montana in which we play and work and garden and grieve and pray and find home?  What kind of dirty trick is this that we are to love our place on earth—nurture it with all our might, but be willing to give it all up at the same time?  Wendell Berry in his Mad Farmer’s Manifesto says, “take all that you have and be poor.”  I don’t want to be poor spiritually or otherwise, if it means my land—the place where my children fly kites and catch frogs, where my husband and I have conceived our children, seen our first Northern Lights, built a Mountain Bluebird nesting house that the same bluebird returns to every year and whom my daughter has named, Hello Friend—if all this is to be reduced to char.images (2)

The apostle Paul says, “…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  I am groaning.  But I have words.  I want rain.  I want windlessness.  I want.  I want.  I want.  Perhaps it is this wanting that the Spirit translates to the Divine.  The Buddhist tradition says that we will not experience release from our suffering as long as we have desires.  So am I a complete spiritual flunky if I admit that I feel deep desire to preserve my place here on earth– that I feel an entitlement to my place?  Just how much should we grin and bear?  Or groan and bear?  What can we pray for and remain faithful?

I realize that there are no finite answers to these questions.  But it helps to know that I am not alone in them.  Tell me then, Humanity, that I can pray for the wind to stop, and then after that…in my utter befuddlement, pray to the sweet and ruthless flow of Creation not only for tomatoes to grow in my pots, but for excellent tomatoes to grow in my pots!  Tell me that the Creator is both Lord of wind and tiny things.  And that we are not to be limited in the extent of our wants—our fears, our passion plays.  Please, I beseech you, Humanity, do not tell me that I am entitled only to my sense of faith and my sense of love but not to a loved thing on earth—destined to accept the burning of my house, or say, disease in my child, as if the wind is more necessary than a child.  The wind is created.  The trees are created.  A child is created.  My house is created.  Tomatoes are created.  My daily schedule of car pools and play dates and meals and laundry are created.  Is there a hierarchy to the importance of created things?  Am I at least as dear to the Creator as a lodge pole pine?  Tell me that there is a prayer for all of us.  Because all of us, on some level, matter.

My five-year old daughter comes in to show me that her first tooth has come out.  If I am to surrender to forest fire, tell me, oh Creator, oh Humanity, that this tooth matters.  I hold the tooth in my palm and smile at her and she obliterates me with three fell swoops:  “I wonder if God likes the fire.  I wonder if the fire likes itself.  I’m going to go outside to play now.”  Maybe surrender is not a letting go, but an acceptance.

A going in, even.

images (3)Tell me then, oh time-travelers in this wondrous and heartbreaking “flow,” that not only does the mundane matter, but that it is holy.  Tell me that we are in this holy pickle together—that in your ultimate helplessness on this planet, you cling to what you can help.  That you too contemplate the advantages of brushing your teeth before or after coffee, almost daily.  Before or after orange juice.  Before or after sex.  Tell me that you too keep the buttons that come in a tiny envelope, safety-pinned to your fine garments but with absolutely no intention of ever using them.  Tell me that sometimes you notice that you incorporate the use of your forehead when you are folding towels.  And that in that instant, you laugh out loud.  Tell me that you laugh out loud.  I want to know that we are both laughing.  From Peoria, Illinois, to burning Montana, to Massachusetts two hundred years ago.  It is the echo of that laughter which will save me at three in the morning, breast-feeding my boy, watching lighting striking, slicing through the smoky night.  And prayer, I suppose.  But after prayer, it is the echo of humanity, not God, I am waiting for.  I want to know that I am not the only one pacing alone in my “smoky house.”

Tell me all this, and then tell me that the Creator, to whom time must certainly not be a linear stretch as it is to we mere mortal peons, must on some level restrict himself/herself/itself enough to the created hill-of-beans of my mind, and find mercy.  Tell me that the execution of these tiny things are our greatest acts of faith.  Because they are our fight.  Our meditations.  Our prayers.  Prayers to the moment.  Prayers to our futures.  Prayers without ceasing.

Most of all, tell me that our Creator loves us for the fears we have that lead us to the clingy worship of tiny things in the first place.  Tell me that you believe the Creator gives us the minutia to help us deal with the Everything Else—to find our connection to the rest of Creation.  That the Creator designed us to need the community of tiny things.  Tell me that the Creator invites all of it, like a parent does a child’s wants for bubble gum in one breath, and the cure for cancer in the next.  And that we can both pray for the wind to stop and for the rains to come.  And the fires to end.  And our children’s lives to be long.  And then in the next breath…the next groan…pray for plump, juicy, hose-fed, sun-kissed tomatoes every summer, smoky or not.images (1)

—2000, Laura Munson, Montana

Note:  If you are travelling to Montana this summer or fall, please enjoy our beautiful wilderness which is full of smoke-free and wide open roads and trails, valleys, rivers, and lakes!   

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#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

ED46FE53-9630-4CDB-B72983E21C67D306If you are looking for your voice, your stories, Haven Retreats is calling you.  We still have room in our fall retreats in Montana!  You do not have to be a writer to come…just a seeker.

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
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#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter is a trending hashtag on the internet and one which Jodi Picoult, Amy Tan and others are having fun with…so I thought I’d chime in.  After three decades of living the writer’s life, I have many more than ten juicy possibilities for this list.  But here is my all-time personal favorite:  

“I found your book at a garage sale!  In the Free Box!”

When these words were offered to me, it brought me back to my newly college-fledged comment to the CEO of a major freight car company, delivered with stars in my eyes at a cocktail party in the late ‘80s:  “Guess what, Mr. _______, I just sold my stock in your company to make the deposit on my first apartment!”  I was ecstatic about my first writing space, my first foray into the writing life I so craved, my first twirl with stocking my own refrigerator, having Breakfast at Tiffany’s-esque parties, possibly even getting a cat and naming it after my favorite Salinger character, Franny.

The CEO looked at me like I’d just kicked him in the shins.  “Thank you?” he said, playfully.

I was clueless.  I knew nothing about how the world of investments worked.  All I knew was that this little bit of stock, given to me by a god-parent at birth, was just enough to cover a month of rent in a crap apartment in Allston, MA—where you lived if you couldn’t afford Boston or Cambridge.  To me it was Mecca and that stock sale was my meal ticket to the rest of my life as a real live writer.  So when at one of my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana, where I’ve continued my writing life for two decades, (thankfully not in a cockroach-infested apartment), one of my attendees came up to me on the first night with those same stars in her eyes and uttered the following words, I promptly forgave her and saw them for what they were:  her own meal ticket to her own magical writing life:  “Thank you so much for your book!  It helped me to know that I’m a real writer! Something told me I had to stop at that garage sale, and I’m glad I listened because that’s where I found your book!  In a Free Box!”  Not even a fifty cent steal…but Free!  Bonus!

I learned a long time ago, likely in that cock-roach infested Allston apartment of my writerly dreams, that the writer’s ego never gets to explode.  Being the leader of retreats that people come to from all over the world, sometimes, if for only a nano-second, can be grounds for possible ego-explosion.  But thankfully, something always makes certain that it will never happen.  No, we writers get to have that usually well-intentioned kick in the shins over and over again.  It makes us write better, I guess.

So I took the baton from the CEO, smiled and said “Thank you?”  Because the truth is, however people get our writing in their hands, even if it keeps us poor and ego-deflated, it’s a joyful moment.  The trajectory from our small dark offices to their hearts is what matters.  At least to this writer.  Yes, we should be paid for what we do.  And ‘tis true that only a small percentage of writers, even best-selling ones, make any money from their book sales (that’s another story)…  At the end of the day, every committed writer knows that it’s ultimately about doing the work, no matter where it lands.  And that’s good news because we can control only that piece of the trajectory.  If we truly love doing the work, then we will always be rich in the way that counts.  And if someone actually reads it, well then…gravy.

But please…if you’re going to throw a garage sale and toss our books into the equation, could you at least humor us by putting a price tag on it?  Oh, say, something similar to the $2.50 chipped ash tray or the $1.25 rusty oil can?  Just for dignity’s sake, never mind the ego?  The ego took her ball (and books) and went home a long…time…ago.smile

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Unplugging (or: How many times do you check Facebook or your email in one hour? The truth hurts.)

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Haven Writing Retreats

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
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…When you see a * it means I thought about checking FB or email. When you see a *** it means that I fought and lost.

as featured in Huffington Post 50

I do not have ADD or OCD. I’ve always been a highly focused, project-oriented person, and not a big fan of multi-tasking. I like to choose something, give it everything I’ve got, and then move on to the next thing. For the last five years, however, I have been writing four books. I don’t recommend this, unless you have a committed and long-term writing practice. *  I don’t really recommend it even if you do. It’s a fractured way of going about the writing life. But it’s what I had the heart for. Sort of an eeny meeny miney moe. Each one provided different oxygen and I am grateful for the stories they helped me breathe alive. I’ve completed two of these projects and am hoping they will see the light of day before too long. But in that fracture, I allowed something pretty corrosive to leak in: the internet. *

The internet is a writer’s friend and a writer’s enemy. It gives us community and support in an otherwise very solitary profession. Just ask my 4,000+ Facebook friends. (Most of them are writers I’ve never met before, but if they asked me to help get the word out about their writing, my answer would probably be, “of course.”) *  It’s a generous platform, especially for writers. But the internet is also a big problem for writers. We’d be fools not to use its powerful tentacles. Blogs, guest blogs, interviews, videos, podcasts, webinars…makes my brain hurt just thinking about all the ways I haven’t used it, but even the most internet savvy writer out there still lies in bed wondering if they’ve done enough to promote their work and if they’ve given their stories the oxygen they deserve once they have life. I’m fairly sure there isn’t a writer out there who at the end of the day says, “Yup—I did it all. I am fully cyberly self-expressed. Check.” ***

I miss the days when the only buttons I pushed were on my keyboard, writing books and essays. I never had leaks. Maybe the muse would pause for a cup of tea or a walk with the dog, but when I wasn’t mothering, I was pretty much writing. It was heaven. Now, approximately every thirty seconds (I timed myself), I think about the internet. That email I forgot to respond to. *That blog post I should write.  *Oh, and I wonder who’s got an interesting article up on Facebook that might inspire the muse, or how my friend’s new pug is today on Instagram, * or what witty thing that poet I follow is Tweeting about.  * I’ve let the internet fracture what was already a fractured writing practice, divided by four books. I lead writing retreats where people unplug and write for five days. I need to do the same. I need to reclaim my focus and luxuriate in it.

It’s not like I’m not writing. It’s that I’m writing in too many directions. A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed a good old fashioned lock down. Somewhere with no wifi. Somewhere I don’t recognize. In a place I am not responsible for. I needed to remind myself who I am when I’m totally focused on one large project.  * So I chose one of my books which needed to be edited from top to bottom, and drove to a remote town in Montana to a cabin on a country road called Sweathouse Lane. And that’s what I did. Sweat. (Blood and tears included). I brought enough food for a few days, my laptop, my journal, and a change of clothes. That’s it. I made sure my cellphone wouldn’t get service. * I made sure I couldn’t get anywhere near the internet. And I worked. For eighteen solid hours I worked on one…project.

At first it was sort of a Goldie Locks feeling. I found myself pacing around the kitchen. No one to interrupt me. Nothing for me to interrupt. I sat on the living room couch. Too soft. Sat at the kitchen table. Too hard. Sat on the front porch. Too hot. And so, as I often do, I took to the bed. Basically, I didn’t move from that bed except for ablutionary reasons, for eighteen hours. I couldn’t believe how freeing it felt. Without the temptation of the internet, *I was able to hold all 350 pages in my head and heart and balance it all until it felt stable. Whole.

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Whether or not you are a writer, I challenge you to sit down for one hour and write something…something inspiring with a good lesson at the end…even if it’s just for your eyes only…and notice how many times you think about going on the internet. * It might be one of the most powerful exercises of your life, because it might show you something about yourself and how your brain works. Where the leaks are. I’ve learned in this hour that I think about the internet when I’m pausing, or when I’m trying to find the courage to go deeper into my thoughts. That’s scary. Because it means that the internet has become my binkie. And that’s when I’m trying to focus. What would happen if I did this experiment when I wasn’t trying to focus? Say, stuck in gridlocked traffic. Or lying on the beach on a summer day, trying to relax. If we are constantly checking the internet, are we ever totally focused, never mind totally unwinding? Are we ever really taking a day off? Do we have to go to a remote cabin with no wifi in order to remember what it really is to pause? Or sit on a meditation mat? The ultimate challenge would be to see how many times you think about plugging in to the internet on a meditation mat! I’m too chicken to try that one.

When the Hindus are trying to separate from their thoughts and transcend worldly attachments they say “Neti Neti,” which is Sanskrit for not this, not this. In my attempts at meditation, I say “Neti, Neti” as much as I’m showing red asterisks here in this essay. I wonder if there’s an emoji for Neti Neti? *

I have simply got to make my time around computers more yogic. I have got to designate email time and social media time to definitive slots and take vows to observe them. Or my mind is going to become permanently fractured and my writing (and my life) will reflect it. For now, I’m going to take a walk with my dog. No phone. Neti Neti. * Neti.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”– Thomas Merton

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Writing inspiration from Haven Retreats

Teachers say that they are always students.  I have the pleasure of working with writers almost every month in some form.  Here is some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned and put into my own words.  My daughter has a powerful and unique way of seeing the world.  These are her images.  There is simply nothing more delightful to me than co-creating with people I care about.

Ten more brave souls arrive in Montana on Wednesday from all over the country.  I simply cannot wait to teach…and learn.  Enjoy!

 

 

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