Tag Archives: success

What I Learned on Career Day…

career
as featured in Huffington Post 50

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel of professionals for Career Day at a local therapeutic prep school in the Montana woods. I had no idea what to expect. I went to a prep school, but not a “therapeutic” one. I went to one that was all about having big answers to the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you- grow-up” question. As a dreamy, driven teen, it was a challenge that both daunted and inspired me throughout my high school career. My dreams were always out-of-the-box — an artist of some sort — an actress, maybe a film-maker … but luckily I was someone who figured out how to be comfortably in-the-box, keeping my out-of-the-box thoughts mostly to myself. So I wrote a lot. That practice turned into an obsession which turned into a craft which turned into a career. That was the goal for this Career Day: panelists were supposed to tell our stories — talk about the arc of our careers, then and now. But we weren’t talking to in-the-box kids. It turned out, we were talking, quite frankly, to our interior adolescent selves.

Given the nature of the students at this school, I knew that my story had to be as transparent and true as possible. These weren’t kids who dance to any level of BS. They’ve been through hard stuff and they don’t want the Kool-Aid. They want the raw, the real, the impossible possible.

I practiced my 15-minute presentation in the car as I drove further and further into the woods. I speak and lead retreats about the power of using my profession (writing) as a therapeutic tool, so I figured I had this one in the bag. All I needed to add to my well-developed story was the part about how I discovered that creative self-expression on the page is an excellent way to process life, and how I’ve learned to practice this every day, against the odds. How it sustains me personally, and now financially. Lesson: find out what you love and do it with all your heart, no matter what, and eventually you will succeed, whatever that means to you. I’m living proof. Easy.

The first panelist to present was a prosecuting attorney. I prepared for a serious talk from a serious person. Instead, he talked about wandering. Living in Hawaii. Surfing. Snow-boarding. Bartending. Being misunderstood. Feeling like a loser. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. And finding his way eventually to a profession that meets his needs. The second panelist was a successful web-developer with prominent clients all over the world. In his presentation, he talked about wandering. Living in New Zealand. Surfing. Skiing. Bartending. Turning down corporate America for mountain living. Worrying his parents. Wanting something different. Inventing things. When it was my turn, I found myself telling a very similar story, mostly the wanting-something-different component. Oh, and I bartended too. And wandered. And worried my parents.

We had three rotations of students who listened to our presentations, all with interesting questions, and a modicum of blank stares. These kids were listening. And we on the panel were listening to each other … three times. It’s one thing to wow a crowd with your best one-liners, cutting honesty, and slightly irreverent stories. But looking into the eyes of these kids who’ve travelled miles of hard road, there was zero room for schtick. I pride myself on heart language. Turning heart language into schtick is a depressing trajectory, but truth-be-told, it’s happened to me along the way, likely out of a self-preservation that grows from being constantly on the road, sharing your message. Given this Career Day format, there was no way it was happening here. Quite probably because of this fact, what I saw in myself and my co-panelists (we supposed “experts”) was a fountain of truth.

The first time around, we gave blow-by-blow plays on the journey of our careers. Fascinating details. Twists and turns. Yellow brick road of success with pitfalls you only admit when you’ve found your way to Oz. The second time, we three offered more — personal stuff, odd vignettes that ended up inspiring major life choices right down to a conversation on a plane and a pair of flip-flops. But before the third group of students came into the classroom, one panelist admitted, “I’ve been telling it wrong.” His eyes lit up and he offered to go first. He spoke about inventing things — got deep into what made him want to invent things and why. Which begat a confessional from the other panelist about how he didn’t always love his profession, but how he has learned to live by his principles, moment by moment. And when it was my turn, I got ready to tell my usual story — about wanting to follow my passion with all my might, even if it left me poor and unpopular … but instead, this voice escaped like it was pulling free from very old shackles:

“I wanted to be famous. Really famous. Meryl Streep famous. I was jealous of Julia Roberts. I wanted that career. I was jealous of the literary brat pack from the 80s. I wanted those careers. Desperately. But the voices inside my head were so loud: you’re not good enough, your dreams will never come true, who do you think you are to have those lofty dreams, you’re a show off, you’re self-centered, you’re not talented, you’re an embarrassment to your family, you’re a failure.” My heart pounded and my face heated, but I continued. “I’ve let my inner critic run me. Until very recently. Even though I give speeches and lead writing retreats about how to become aware of that voice and shed it, I’ve still allowed my inner critic to hold court. I don’t want that for you all.” And then privately, a very new thought brought me to my proverbial knees. And I added, “I never realized until this moment … that I’ve allowed her to be much freer than I am. She lives out-of-the-box. I’m the one still somehow in-the-box because she tells me the story, and I dance. I don’t want a story. I want to be rid of stories and just be.”

I looked at those kids and I realized: that’s what they wanted — to be free of their story. Of their pain, their pressure, their past. To free themselves of boxes altogether. And yes, to have permission to wander. And worry their parents.

I ended up staying for lunch. I sat with the students and answered more questions but mostly I listened to them. I commended them for being different and admitting it and wanting to understand themselves, truthfully. I commended them for being honest and outed for exactly where they are in their evolution. “Most of the stories we tell ourselves are myths,” I told them. “If there’s one thing to live by, it’s that. Find your truth, no matter how inconvenient, and live into it. And for what it’s worth, the “experts” are really grown-up high school kids, scared, just like you.”

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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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On The Road: (or Where am I?)

You may think the road is glamorous…but think again.  There are lessons in limos that you might not expect…

Origninally published in Author Magazine

I’m home now after two months on the road promoting my book, and every morning, I wake up with a start: Where am I?
I could be anywhere. I could be in a Hampton Inn in Dayton, Ohio. I could be in a Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. I could even be in my own bed. And it’s an interesting experiment lying there, daring the early morning birds, living into that not knowing.

I’ve known exactly where I am when I wake for many years. I am in my bed in Montana, once again waking to the same cool celadon green of my walls, the same mahogany antique desk that I’ve ruined with hot tea mugs, the rings to prove it. There is a stack of books covering those rings, and I’ve read too little of those words, and so usually, I awake to guilt. Guilt in the rings and books and inevitable dust—a dead fly or two on the window sill. I feel guilt, but I feel comfort. I am the keeper of these inanimates.

In My Dinner with Andre, Andre has to climb mountains to know that he exists. Wallace Shawn is happy to wake up to the cold cup of coffee from the day before in his New York City apartment. In both cases, these are proof that they are alive. I have been alive then in dead bugs and low grade guilt. But I’d like to have kinder proof, so usually I try to think of a few nice things to say to myself. Sometimes I think of people to whom I want to send loving kindness. Either way, there is always this butterfly flicking around in my rib cage: when do I get to write? That question is what quells it all. And it is with that question that I get out of bed and enter my day. It is in answering that question, that I know where I am.

I had a friend who spent a lot of time and money getting her masters in creative writing. At the end of it she realized she’s not a writer. “I dreaded every minute of it,” she said. “Really,” I said. “I feel like a little girl getting away with something every time I sit down to my writing desk.” It felt that way in 1988 when I realized I am a writer and it feels that way in 2011, and if I know anything about myself, it will feel that way as long as I live.

As I’ve said before, writing is my practice and my prayer. My meditation. My way of life and sometimes my way to life. It is the holiest ground I know. And so, you might wonder what happens when you wake up day after day on the road in a startle, wondering what you will see when you open your eyes and really not knowing what the answer is to the question, once you get around to it: when do I get to write? Because the answer most likely is: this summer. And summer is months away.

So do you feel sorry for yourself? Or worried for yourself like your grandmother worries for you? Maybe a little. Your life, for as much as your dreams are now realities, is dearly out of balance. Writers have nervous breakdowns on book tours because of this imbalance. Their personal lives suffer. Their children suffer. Mothers without their children suffer, whether or not they are writers. I have a writer friend who doesn’t call her kids when she’s on the road. “It upsets them,” she says, and she’s right. Better to extract yourself and to leave them be. They don’t need the reminder. It doesn’t feel good hearing your voice. It feels sad. For both of you.

It’s true that I bring my journal with me when I travel. But it’s also true that I don’t write in it. I can’t quite ask and answer my good questions. I can’t quite go into the woods of my heart and depict my wanderings well or even at all. It’s too painful. It’s what my friend with the MFA felt when she sat down to write. I think that for me, it’s because novels hatch in journal entries. Or at least short stories and essays. And I can’t afford that to happen. Because I can’t take their hand and breathe air into their lungs. They will be like my children. Abandoned for now.

So I am out of practice on the road. I am disoriented. Where am I? This is not just a question of toilet and nightstand and lamp and toilet paper. This is deeply psychic. Where am I? What CAN you take with you? Well here is my answer:

Every so often, like the Pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim who travelled with his book and his knapsack, trying to learning what it is to pray without ceasing, we need to find the wilderness that is us. To give up our earthly possessions and even that cold cup of coffee and those dead flies that remind us we are alive, and climb our Everests like Andre or take to wandering with one single intention like the Pilgrim. We need to forget what Monday is from Tuesday and what Portland is from Jacksonville, and just be Somewhere. It’s nice to become aware of a comfortable bed because of the uncomfortable bed in which you slept the night before. It’s nice to know the difference before you even know where you are longitudily and latitudinaly speaking. A good pillow leaves you wanting to weep in gratitude. The smile from a cab driver. A wink from the woman at the train ticket box. The way the waitress calls you “hon.”

At home, you don’t notice these things quite the same way. You know exactly where you are. You berate yourself for being forty-five years old and still not having the wherewithal to keep a stock of tampons in your medicine cabinet. You feel guilt over ruined antiques and pressure from dead flies, and you forget sometimes that they are reminders that yes, you are alive. You can’t think about being alive. You have so very much laundry to do.

And yes, you are home. You have a place to practice your prayer. And the road reminds you: you have your room of your own…and you are so grateful for it because you forgot: a long time ago, you pined away for that room. You wrote inbetween shifts at the restaurant and while the babies slept. You have your desk that awaits you. You have your work. You have a life in balance, for the most part. You know where the toilet is. The road has been a great teacher: you need to be OUT of balance every so often, so that you know what balance is in the first place. You need to learn to be grateful for dead flies by climbing the mountain. There are times to live and times to write and times to do both. And so to the road, and to all those hotel rooms and that new question (Where am I?) which for many weeks this last year have replaced my usual question at waking (When do I get to write?)…Thank you.

And now it is summer.

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Lost in Translation?

A lot of things have been blessings in disguise from this journey of book, but one of the greatest ones has been knowing that my words are reaching people all over world.  Wow.  Wow.  The UK has been amazing. So have been the Auzzies and Germans. Thank you.

Hearing from a blind woman in Israel who tells me that my book helped her through the greatest loss of her life and that is the death of her seeing eye dog to cancer.  This is the power of story.  To know that my words, written here in my small room in Montana, are being translated around the globe:  well that is just hitting me.  And it’s hitting me hard.  Today I got my words in Chinese. 
And recently in German. Soon in Dutch, Italian, and in Taiwanese.
Universal truth is universal truth.  It crosses oceans and countries and cultures.  Thank you.

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The Year My Mother Hit the Road

Family bike ride in Glacier National Park (photo credit Kelly Marchetti)

If you haven’t stepped into my house during the day, you wouldn’t know what it sounds like.  There is NPR on low in the kitchen, an occasional UPS delivery and thusly, the occasional sounds of a golden retriever and a black lab barking, gravel being rolled over by truck wheels.  Sometimes there’s the sound of a sump pump in the basement throbbing like a hospital breathing machine.  Sometimes rain gushing from gutters.  Sometimes errant flies caught between the window and its screens.  And from May to August, birds.  These sounds come and go and I am their only witness. 

If you walked into my home and I didn’t know you were here, you’d also hear the popcorn of my computer keyboard, right when it’s really popping there at the end, before it burns.  You’d be my witness.  You’d hear first and then see if you walked to the sound coming from the small room at the foot of the stairs, that I write.  All day.  And have since 1994 when I stopped working fulltime and became a fulltime writer.  I’d been writing inbetween jobs since 1988, but my steady writing life really began when we moved to Montana and my husband took a well-paying job running a brewery– which meant I finally had the time to put my total energy into finding the intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing.  And then the babies came, but I still wrote during their naps and at night after they went to bed, and then when it was time for them to go to school, I had my days wide open again to write.  From 9:00 until 3:00, more or less, once first grade began for the last child.  That happened six years ago.  Since then, I’ve written and I’ve mothered. 

I get down and dirty with the tuna fish and the mayo and the deli meat and the peanut butter at 7:00 am, slicing apples and carrots and putting them into small waxpaper bags for school lunches.  I serve up French toast with warmed real maple syrup in yoga pants and a fleece and my hair in a scrunchie, trying to take advantage of the ten minute ride into school– everything always a teaching moment.  There’s a lot of philosophy and world religion and English 101 on those drives.  And then the popcorn pops all day. And then I return to the school at 3:00 to escort my children to their music lessons and sporting practices and games.  The “how are yous” from other parents are met with “I’m fine.  How are you?”  And the conversation wanders around in the field of parenting, sharing opinions and concern for local issues from the sidelines and parking lots that house our public lives.  But privately, I have another world with no witnesses save for flies and dogs. Privately, I write.

And then my dream came true.  I got a book published. And everything changed. I got to serve the popcorn.  And people ate it and wanted more.  And I went around the country serving it up in whopping portions.  It turns out, I make good popcorn.  And people paid me for my popcorn.  And then flew me around so I could serve up more of it.  And put me up in fancy hotels and drove me around in limos.  Man, I never even knew that my popcorn would really ever be eaten, much less eaten like that!  It was really really satisfying.  I’ve been told, my popcorn even has changed people’s lives.   (OK– I beat the shit out of that one.  Sorry Strunk and White. Outside of metaphor-land, I always burn the popcorn, for what it’s worth.)

Suffice it to say, I’ve been gone a LOT for a year or so.  Sometimes for two whole months.  At one point, I couldn’t remember what grade my son was in.  At another, I found out that my daughter had started Driver’s Ed.  Who wrote that check? Who signed that permission slip? The answer is:  my husband.  And it’s not like I wrote a book about a small tribe in Africa.  I wrote about writing.  I wrote about a hard time in our marriage.  I wrote about practicing what it is to live powerfully right there at your kitchen sink when the world tells you you’re a victim.  I wrote about lifelines– canning tomatoes with my children, digging carrots from my garden, picking huckleberries, learning how to breathe deeply…rather than exploding in pain and agony.  I wrote my way through this time to help myself and to help other people.  I went public with my deepest thoughts and emotions.  And even though it’s not really a book about marriage, let’s face it:  my husband was going through a major crisis of self, and I reported on what that looked like.  Not to expose him, or my children, but to expose me.  My book is about my journey– my committment to stop basing my happiness on things outside my control.  The publishing world, my marriage, all of it.  And somehow, the world wants to hear that message.  And somehow, my husband has the grace to know that our story is helping people, even though it’s no one’s first choice to be depicted in a time of personal crisis. 

When I am out of town, and even sometimes when I’m here and things are busy in this little room at the bottom of the stairs, here’s what that grace looks like:  he wakes up, gets down and dirty with tuna fish, mayo, deli meat…well you get the picture.  He signs the permission slips and writes the checks and drives the kids to school and has those conversations and picks them up and escorts them around to their after school activities.  He has those conversations with other parents in the parking lots and sidelines.  And on top of that, he works.  His work day is compacted because of it, like mine used to be.  And when I return from my travels, I can see it.  They are in a rhythm.  And it works.  I am not part of that rhythm.  I am so grateful for what he is doing in my absence and in honor of my dream come true.  He is the reason I can publicly be my book’s messenger. 

I will admit here that it’s also a haunting experience, re-entering my house and my family life and seeing how it has worked without me in it.  It’s like I’ve died and I’m looking from the afterlife into this farmhouse in Montana.  Wow, look at that– the windows got washed. The windows haven’t been washed in ten years! Gosh that’s a big pile of laundry. Has anybody fed the dogs? I’m not at all comfortable with my son going to that kid’s slumber party.  But these are not my calls to make when I am on the road.  I have to let go.  I am not home.  You relinquish a certain level of your parenthood when you travel for business or if you work late hours.  It’s like the opposite of sending your kid off to college.  YOU are in college, as it were.

I tell you all this because it matters to me that you know, if you too have suddenly catapulted out of your daily regime as a parent and are feeling…well, a little scared of what that means to your kids and spouse.  A little guilty.  A little overcome by the new rhythms of family.  I tell you this because I have compared notes now with plenty of working mothers and fathers whose work brings them far from home.  And I’m here to say that, as long as it’s not constant, as long as there is balance and regularity and a system in place that works…you are setting a GOOD example for your children.  You can have your parenthood and your job.  You can have your dreams come true in your field of work and still be a good parent.  If it happens quite suddenly…it can be a shock at first–for everyone in your family.  And there are conversations that need to happen.  There may well be abandonment issues that need to be worked out with a therapist.  I check in with my kids about this regularly.  I want them to know that I am not choosing my work over them.  But rather that work is part of life.  Knowing them, they will work hard too, and hopefully it will be doing something they love and hopefully the world will receive them into it and hold them up to their best selves.  That’s what I’m trying to do with my life.  Be my best self.  Which means that sometimes, I have to leave my family and hit the road. 

So to my family, thank you.  Thank you thank you thank you.  And yep– your mother’s back.  Brush your teeth.  Don’t slouch.  Take off your hat at the dinner table.  And no, you can’t go to that kid’s slumber party.  And to my husband, thank you for marrying me as the woman I am, and not only the mother that I am.  But p.s. I don’t do windows. Way to raise the bar! I love you.

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Letter to a Young Blogger

Recently a blogger wrote to me asking for advice, feeling desperate and raw the way that every writer feels. I get a lot of letters, for which I am deeply thankful, and have learned that I have to be economic with my response time in a committment to finishing my current novel. I started writing her what I assumed would be a short but honest letter, hoping to find just the right words…and realized that what I had to share was an old fashioned, long, heart-in-the-hand, letter. And as I opened up to that and my words increased, more and more impassioned, I realized that I really was writing to myself and all writers everywhere. I’d like to share it with you, with her permission. And likewise, I’d like to share her response. Hope it helps. yrs. Laura

12/11/10

Dear, Nikki.

I know people don’t use “Dear” anymore in emails, but to you, from me, sisters in words, it is “dear.” Thank you for reaching out to me in your very candid and honest letter. It takes guts to reach out to published authors, especially when their work has touched you. I have a whole file of letters I’ve written over the years to my favorite author, but was too shy to send them to him. Finally one day I exploded in desperation and wrote 20 years of writer’s woe into a letter, and sent it to his editor thinking he’d never in a million years actually get it. But it felt somehow good just to know that I’d finally spoken my truth to the person I most respect in the literary world: and that was that I was terrified I’d never get published, that I knew I was a good writer and had written good books, and that I needed help. He emailed me a few weeks later. We ended up meeting for drinks that spring in a small border town in Arizona where I was camping with my family. We ended up becoming friends. And he ended up putting in a good word to his editor for me. The book deal fell apart anyway. Writers can’t really help writers get published. Even wickedly famous ones such as he. But we can share our feelings and we can make suggestions and we can help guide one another.

You said you weren’t sure why you wrote me, only that you were so ready to launch your career that you were afraid of being “Over done.” “Burnt to a crisp.” That’s to me a way of saying, “Help. In any way you can. Just help. I can’t be alone in this one more second.” A cry for help—not necessarily on-the-ledge kind of help, but maybe on the soul’s edge. And all you really want is an echo that says there was a meeting point out there in the world that heard you and bounced it back to you in a game of mystic catch. You’ve been witnessed. You are not alone. You’ve been met. I have some things I’d like to say about that and I hope it finds you, if nothing else, met.

I so deeply understand where you are in all this. Having so much work and wanting it to be read and wanting to be respected for it, and wanting to be paid for it. It feels so helpless and hopeless– like you’re working so hard to mine your life and bridge human hearts with honesty, empathy, compassion…and yet nobody really sees you or cares. Like you’ll somehow fall between the cracks. Any of this ring a bell? (sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but we writers need lifelines—basic full frontal flung floatation– and well-worn metaphors can sometimes feel like just that!) As you know, I’ve written many books that are not published. Not all good ones. And not all ones which I’ve submitted to my agent. In fact, I’ve really only submitted four or five, and she’s only shopped so far three of them. In three years of hard-at-it submissions, her New York City hardened fist to the pavement, only one of them got published. It was crushing.

I’d been told many times that getting an agent was harder than actually getting a book published, so when I finally landed mine, I had high hopes. Even in this economy. Even with the publishing industry in shambles. I still had hope because I had someone who believed in me even when I didn’t. After both books were considered seriously by two different big time editors, both of whom were willing to work with me on the sly to get my manuscripts in the best possible shape so they could come into their editorial staff meetings guns blazing…and after both were still in the end rejected, my agent decided she wouldn’t even send my work out any more. I needed a platform. I’d sent her my memoir, the one that just got published, the one that ended up on the New York Times bestseller list, and she said, “I’m sorry. I’m just not sending your work out. You’re too good of a writer to keep falling through the cracks. You need a platform.”

So there I was, feeling completely hopeless. Because wasn’t having a top notch New York agent in the first place, sitting on three polished and what I considered to be powerful manuscripts, proof enough of my writing moxie? How did a girl prove herself even more than that? “By getting into the New Yorker or the New York Times,” she said. Ugh. I’d tried that. I’d failed at that. I honestly had never felt more bereft. Never in 20 years have I had writer’s block, or faced a blank page without butterflies in my stomach. Never had I lost a lick of hope. That day, I got off the phone and put my head down on my computer, and wept. I really, for the first time, saw clearly that my career, at 42 years old, very well might never launch. The ship wouldn’t come in. I’d be bobbing in cold waters so tired of clutching that life preserver, that I finally might just let go, and become fish food. I felt myself, for the first time in my life, beginning to let go.

And something miraculous happened. In a flicker of a moment, sort of how they say that you see your life flash before you just before death, I had this deep warm feeling of knowing. I’d write the short version of my memoir, the one my agent wasn’t going to shop, and I’d send it to the New York Times Modern Love column. I’d just had two rejections from them in tandem the week prior. At least I was fresh in the editor’s mind. So in an hour, I wrote the essay. It flowed out the way I suppose one’s last breath flows. One long rattle. And I sent it, left the house to pick up the kids, and forgot about it. That was going to be the way things went from now on. I would have to train myself to forget about it. To take the future out of my brain and heart. I didn’t know what that meant. Would I stop writing? I couldn’t fathom that death, so I let it go. And it was just me alone in that sea. The alternative was to thrash. And I couldn’t do that any longer. I was too tired of thrashing.

The next morning, I got an email: “This one, we’re going to take.” It was from the editor of the Modern Love column. And you probably know the rest of the story. That essay was the number one most read article on The New York Times website for weeks. The responses crashed the site. It went viral all over the world. I heard from ministers, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers…you name it. People wanted to hear that particular message which was simple but hard to apply, especially to a marital crisis, which was my essay’s entry point. The message was: you can find freedom in crisis by focusing on the present moment, getting rid of the destructive voices in our heads that have us reacting in a place of fear, to love those voices into submission, to take responsibility for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life. To let go and just be with the pain of life, using the pain of life, breathing through the pain of life. Simple. I’d applied this philosophy to my marriage, and now I was finally applying it to my writing life. And that’s when everything happened.

Now, a year later, I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning in December with my husband and children skiing, trying to work on a novel. I’d like a novel to be published next. I worry about being pigeon-holed as a memoirist. It’s the novel that is my deep love; the craft at which I’ve been “hearkening and hammering,” as Rilke said (who wrote his own “dear” letters to another writer), for all these years. And I find myself putting this philosophy to play all over again. My inner voice wants me jumping through hoops and walking across coals. The dread blank page. The likelihood of a novel getting published in this industry. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it was just a rogue nerve that I hit the way my anesthesiologist did when he was giving me my epidural before my cesarean. “I’ve hardly ever done that,” he said. And like you, I’m asking those old questions: what if this really is just my three minutes. And the clock is ticking. Never mind the simple fact that we need money, badly. To keep our house. To regain health insurance and life insurance and pay our bills after years of career failure. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to pay for Christmas this year. And the kids with such long lists.

I think that the single most dashing aspect of being a writer is feeling so alone. So the help I can give you is not the lifeline, but the simple act of catching the echo, your voice to mine, mine to yours. Even though my book has been more successful than I ever dreamed as I sat here at this desk a few summers ago writing my way through a hard time in my life, not even all that sure that I’d one day submit it to my agent…I still face what you face. The loneliness, the fear, the sinking hope. I wasn’t sure my marriage would make it through that crisis and I wasn’t going to give it an even larger burden if in fact it did. But I wrote with all the compassion and honesty I could, responsible to a rule I made to myself and that was: not to vilify my husband. Not to play victim. Not to expose things beyond what felt necessary to the memoir. In the end, my agent sent out the book. In the end I got that long awaited book deal. The book tour. The national television. The NPR interviews. The positive reviews. The fans. The pay check. The New York Times bestseller list. The opportunity to have written something that is helping people. All the things I’d dreamed of.

And here I am, having spent a year of my life running around creation talking to people about that book and that time in my life, trying so hard to give people hope, especially writers. And I’m here to say that the whole reality of success is a myth. There is no real destination there. You’re just “seen and heard” that’s all. And it feels so good after feeling so unseen and unheard for so long. But it also feels disorienting and a little wrong. Like you’re really supposed to be back in that office, staring at the blank page, doing the work. Not being a travelling salesperson/social networking whore/motivational speaker. As another writer friend so perfectly put it a year ago, “Enjoy this initial bliss. In a matter of months, your cherry will be popped and you’ll realize that you are at the end of the day, not a writer, but a businesswoman, caught in a machine.” I didn’t want to believe that she was right. To a degree, she was. But no one can take away the writing. In that place, I completely trust myself. In that place, I am floating, surrendered, riding the waves, not thrashing, not a bit of future in me, watery dark ocean’s bottom or helicopter rescue.

So it’s my pleasure to respond to you and share what I’ve learned, having gone to the other side so suddenly this year. The “platform” I’ve wanted most of all is the one from which to help writers persevere. I’ve wanted this desperately for a long time. Somewhere along the line I turned around and realized that I was an expert on the subject of perseverance. I knew how to do one thing well: start books and finish them. Start essays and finish them. Start short stories and finish them. I wasn’t as good with submissions, and that was part of not yet wanting that “cherry” to be popped. Something deep in my psyche knew that I had to learn my craft. To understand that intersection of mind and heart and craft that is writing. To build that body of work. And yes, now the business of it is upon me. I’m trying to look at it like a game rather than a tragedy about to happen. I’m trying to look at it as a numbers game, or a pie chart, or something simple and practical. I write something and I submit it to these three places and I forget about it. And if I do that on Monday and Tuesday, and spend Wednesday on blog posts and researching grants and residencies, then I have Thursday, Friday and part of the weekend to work on my novel. Simple. If I strip it down, moment by moment, and not get stuck under the miasma of “what if.”

As my favorite writer said to me at that bar in southern Arizona, “Somebody has to get published and why not you.” So I pass that on to you. You are not alone. And you are alone. And that’s not bad news. You are a part of a collective sisterhood and brotherhood of writers who trust themselves best at the intersection, otherwise why else would they put themselves through this writing life. All those blank pages. All that rejection. I wish for you, and for all of us, that flicker of a moment when we finally let go, and get to the depths of compassion, empathy, and yes craft…send off our work surrendered, and somewhere have it received, met, echoed back in e. e. cummings world of Yes. Yes is a world. May we know it as writers, first deep in ourselves. And then from the world.

I wish you all the very best, Nikki.

Yrs.

Laura

Here is her response:
Hi Laura,

The other day I tried to compose an email to you, and it was a challenge to even do this. I was unable to write anything, and then a couple days ago I woke up and realized why. My soul will not allow me write from the place of ego- you know that small, weak place of wanting to write for attention and following and publication and approval. There was a time I only wrote for me, and as I have moved out to share my writing and wanting to make a living from it, my ego perks up its head and pushes me with its demands. It is wonderful to realize I cannot write, at least well, for those reasons. I have to write for something deeper.

I am so glad I reached out to you, and again I thank you for your letter. It will be something I keep and read when I need that support. I am grateful it inspired a letter to all writers and I would be honored to have my name displayed. There is so much for us to learn within the writing process. Recently I began writing another blog dedicated to this and it helps, as you say, warm up for the writing day ahead.

Thank you for saying my blog is my platform. This brought such relief. And I am receiving more requests for potential money making with ads on my blog and like you I want to maintain integrity. As far as blogher, I signed on with them a couple of years ago. I have had a good experience with them. The only issue is when I change my blog design I have to make sure the ad is near the top. They have requirements of where the ad should be. I can’t remember how I signed up with them, but I am sure the site walks you through. I know you can choose what kind of advertising you want, and if there is a company you are opposed to, you can customize settings. There will be an html code to add and then it should appear. They will also share your posts, which helps get more people to your site.

Thank you, honestly for being the echo, and holding the space of my desperation. This, especially in these times, is essential. I, like you, hold our vulnerable moments the most sacred and we need people to hold that space for us, and honor it. We also need people to show us by their example we can persevere and do what we love. I think what was most valuable to me in your letter is knowing even with your success you have not arrived. I shared a story in my local paper- and it speaks to this- recently I climbed a steep mountain, at least for me coming from Minnesota, it was steep, and while I climbed I had moments of terror, where I just didn’t think I was going to make it, but what kept moving me forward was wanting to see the view from the top. I also wanted to know I could make it. When I arrived, there was not the breathtaking view I imagined or was there the path I had hoped for to bring me back down so I wouldn’t have to roll down the way I came up. Instead there was another climb ahead and these tiny flies buzzing around my head.

My dad shares this message with me- everywhere we go there is the Buddha and flies. I found both, and more ground to cover. I feel honored to walk into this possibility of success holding this knowledge. As you say success is not a destination. It is an illusion. Even you, with your best seller still goes to her writing space and climbs another mountain. And now you are stronger.

I do hope we will stay in touch. I, too wish you all the very best. We are here to express everything that is our potential- that world of “YES.” Isn’t it wonderful to know and experience, especially when shared.

Namaste, Laura.

Nikki

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

Author Magazine and the Wonderful Bill Kenower.

So, as many of you may know, I took a personal day in Seattle on Sunday on my way back home from doing readings in San Francisco. You can see the visuals here.
I met with Bill Kenower for an impromptu lunch in Pike Place Market and Bill wrote about it in his gem of an online magazine called Author. If you’re a writer, this magazine is a lifeline of heart language. Also, check out his video I posted a few months ago. What Bill has to say is not just for writers…

Here’s what he wrote.

Bellybutton And All by Bill Kenower
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Laura Munson this weekend, and the author of This is Not the Story You Think it Is gave me some astute advice, most notably: Everyone has a bellybutton. This is apropos to Laura because she had spent twenty years writing – and not selling – fourteen novels before authoring her breakout bestselling memoir. Like a lot of writers, those twenty years in the publishing wilderness were spent squinting at that distant spec of light called “success.”

Or so she thought. Because now, by a writer’s definition, she is a success. That is, she got a good advance, she found herself on Good Morning America, and she is being asked to speak all over the country. Success, right? But soon after we’d met she stopped me as if we could not take another step or speak another word until she had shared the following: “Bill, I got it,” she declared. ”There is no such thing as success!”

To some people this is defeat. To Laura, and to me, this is pure victory. First, because of the sudden attention she and her book have attracted, Laura now finds herself in some fairly distinguished company – at least by literary standards. And all these Great Writers she is getting to meet do indeed have bellybuttons, just as you do. Secondly, she is still Laura. She is who she always has been and hopefully always will be.

There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting to sell your work, or have lots of readers, or make plenty of money. Except none of those things, as you have often heard, will make you happy – but what you may not have heard is that to think they will actually draws you away from the very source of your happiness.

To place your would-be happiness out on the horizon is to condemn yourself to wanting and wandering. So romantic to glimpse it and yearn for it, but happiness can only be postponed for so long before life reveals this yearning for what it actually is: fear. Fear that this, this life we stand in now at this moment, bellybutton and all, is actually all that life ever is or was. Fear that it should be more. And it will be more – at the exact moment you accept that life has always been more than wanting, and that success is not some destination but the grace to allow through what you have always known.

Go Bill!

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LOVE FEST

Okay—I’m back.  Suitcase still sitting in the corner of my bedroom.  Mouse droppings all over my office.  River birches flaxen.  Dark cool mornings.  Silence at night save for coyotes and the occasional logging truck down-shifting out on the road.  Ahhhh…home sweet home.

 

My New York, Hartford, and Chicago area events were all a success, and by that I mean that I felt the love.  From high school students at my alma mater, to the women who helped raise me, now in their 70s, to friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years, to the many supportive fans who came out and said hi…it was quite frankly, a love fest.  And love fests are a good thing.

But they don’t necessarily cure claustrophobia.  As many of you know, I took a stand for myself recently in this regard, knowing that I was going to spend the next little while in elevators and airplanes and subways and buses.  Things with doors that close and don’t provide easy answers to opening them.  It was getting in my way and I wrote about it here on my blog.  In short, I was limiting myself.  I was spending hundreds of extra dollars to not have to take small planes or stay in hotels that required an elevator.   And when I couldn’t find one, I was walking up and down 15 flights of stairs in business attire, trying not to trip over my boots on lonely, dirty stairwells–and arriving to every meeting in a full sweat.  I was carrying around anti-anxiety meds just in case.  It was exhausting.

 

I was embarrassed and fed up and I called on the help of my new friend the wonderful therapist La Belette Rouge to share her wisdom.  She told me about EMDR, and after hearing her success story, I promptly scheduled four appointments with a local practitioner.  I wasn’t sure if it was working at the time.  Though I recalled intense early childhood memories including crying in my crib and what it was like to actually be stuck in the elevator in the John Hancock building at age five.  I didn’t do much research before I signed up for the sessions, mostly because I didn’t want to walk in a doubter.  I just wanted to get “better.”  And I’m happy to report…that I think I did.

Here’s what happened for me:  in every re-processing of my traumatic memories with the bi-tonal sounds in my ears and the vibrating paddles in my hands, I was able to see that nothing contains you.  You contain you.  Life is no better on the outside of where you are.  And short of a lifetime in prison, you can usually get out, eventually, from where you are.  And when you can’t, I’d hope for the grace to call upon the container that is me, and find solace there.

What I really got to see and feel is the amount of exhaustion that comes with drama, not unlike the driving forces of my book.  The payoff to engaging in the drama is thin compared to the freedom of non-reaction.  It’s less spiritual (though I’d like it to be moreso) than it simply is self-preservation.  It’s easier to sit on an airplane and not be staring at the door wondering when they’re going to close it, thinking about how hard it would be to get them to open it again and let you out.  It’s easier to stand in the elevator and think about what the woman next to you is wearing, or how your next appointment is going to go, or what you want for lunch, than invent and indulge a 70s horror film that has you in a blackout, stuck with a birthing woman and an axe murderer.  It just is.  I spent $500.00 to figure this out.  Well worth it.  I recommend it highly.

 

But here’s something else I learned.  I’m not particularly nice to myself.  In watching those mental movies they ask you to re-live in EMDR as you re-program your mind, I wasn’t often that able to be my own gentle mother.  I told myself at every turn to buck up.  Suck it up.  That there are far worse problems.  And guess what:  it doesn’t do a damn thing but make matters worse.

Mostly I was okay on this trip. I got into elevators and small planes and subways without incident, and when I started to engage those old patterns of thinking, I was gentle with myself, using the methods they teach you in EMDR. But more than being a spokesperson for those methods…my larger message is to be gentle with yourself.  If you need to take the stairs up nine floors, oh well.  It’ll be good exercise.  If you need to talk the person’s ear off next to you in the airplane, so be it.  They’ll survive.  Go gentle into that dark night.  And call it good.

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Filed under City Hits, My Posts

Great Advice for Writers

This piece on NPR really spoke to me. Gladwell’s “10,000 hours rule” in his book Outliers: The Story of Success can indeed turn you into an overnight success, ten years in the making. Don’t give up! Yrs. Laura

Click here to listen

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Summer Lost (or Summer Gained): It's how you slice it.


I didn’t have a summer this year, and I feel sorry for myself. Maybe you can relate. Here’s what I didn’t do that I usually do:
Visit family
Go anywhere beachy
Garden
Ride my horse in the woods (cardinal sin)
Go to the County Fair
Camp
Go to the gym
Hike in Glacier National Park (a .6 mile walk to a waterfall and back does not count)
Spend more than a half an hour picking huckleberries
Finish the Bear puzzle on the dining room table with the kids
Read a novel or two ot ten
Watch the meteor shower
Take a night walk with the dogs, or any substantial walk with the dogs for that matter
Go to Canada, which is 60 miles north
Make homemade ice cream
Have long leisurely dinners outside on the patio
Eat lobster

Here’s what I DID do on my summer vacation:
I compiled this list yesterday because I was sick of beating myself up for all the things I DIDN’T do, and it reminded me that when you are launching your life’s dream and starting a business, you might suffer in the “Life in Balance” category. And so what? Sometimes that’s just the way things fly. So yesterday, I took my mind off my NO list and set it on my YES list, and I went to bed by the full moon last night feeling sated.

The below is not shameless self-promotion, it’s just a good exercise. If you feel that you too didn’t have a summer, you might want to write down what you DID do. And that includes just sitting in a room breathing and gazing out the window, if you didn’t have a high performance last few months. Let’s live in YES instead of NO. Let’s live in the SOLUTION, not the PROBLEM. For what it’s worth, feel free to skim the below:

Played tennis with my kids
Started a puzzle with my kids
Took a romantic getaway with my husband to see Michael Franti and Spearhead in Missoula, MT and had a total blast
Went to a three day horse clinic about centered riding and learned so much about how tight I am on a horse when I’m scared
Swam in the lake a lot

…and the following:
Social Media:
Took a hard core stab at understanding Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, Shewrites, and Blogher which is all mildly terrifying for this techno peasant.

Started “Daily Tips for Writers” on Twitter which I hope to make into a book one day, or use in a memoir about writing.

Regular Blog Contributor:
Became a regular contributer to:
Huffington Post
Parelli Natural Horesmanship Blog

Live Chats:

Awesome Women’s Hub.com on Facebook with Robin Rice

Penguin Watercooler

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/pages/publishersoffice/subcontent/watercoolerarchive/lauramunson.html

My Haven Newsletter live blog chat with Life Coach, Rossell Weinstein

http://lauramunson.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/haven-newsletter-2/

Contest:“Think Outside the Barn”– did a photo essay of barns, and their “real life” personae– followed by the “Name This Barn” contest and book giveaway. Winner to be announced Sept 12. People are having a lot of fun with this and so am I.

Interviews:
The Kathleen Show (radio and blog)

http://www.thekathleenshow.com/2010/07/31/laura-munson/

SHE Magazine– UK (glossy mag, December publication)

Inspiremetoday.com with Gail Goodwin (pending publication)

NPR interview with Sally Mauk

http://www.mtpr.net/program_info/2010-06-10-132

406 Magazine (Montana)

Q&A: Montana Quarterly Magazine

Guest blogger on:

The Traveling Writer

http://alexisgrant.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/qa-with-laura-munson-a-modern-love-success-story/#comment-3336

Drinking Diaries

http://www.drinkingdiaries.com/2010/08/18/an-interview-with-laura-munson-author-of-the-memoir-this-is-not-the-story-you-think-it-is/

Adhocmom.com

http://www.adhocmom.com/2010/08/taps-by-laura-munson-2/

Huffington Post– Arielle Ford’s Blog

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/write-it-and-they-will-co_b_660034.html

Published Essays:

“Dog Fog”– Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-munson/post_670_b_653067.html

“Rain Song”– Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-munson/rain-song_b_653071.html

New York Times Magazine “Lives” essay:

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

Author Magazine

http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/munson_laura_2010_06_14.htm

Woman’s Day (August issue)

Pending Publication:

Shewrites essay
Parelli Horsemanship blog post (will be a montly deal)
O. Magazine South Africa essay
Life By Me essay http://www.lifebyme.com/ ebook by Sophie Cliche (includes Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Maya Angelou etc.)

Submissions: (waiting to hear)
The New Yorker (fingers, toes, eyes, and nostrils crossed)
Ladies Home Journal
The Sun
NPR essay to read on air

Summer Events:Read at the Whitefish Lake Lodge
Read at three private parties: Ridgewood NY, Millbrook, NY, Short Hills, NJ
Read at the Kent Place School, Summit, NJ
Read at a book group on Flathead Lake

FALL EVENTS:
Sept:
Co-hosting (or just plain being feted at) three private parties/readings: NYC, Hartford, Chicago
Reading at two libraries: Fairfield and Simsbury, CT
Speaking at a major Chicago hospital benefit
Speaking at the kick-off to the reading series at my high school in CT
Speaking at the Winnetka Bookstall– luncheon at a great Chicago restaurant

Oct:
Fundraiser for a San Francisco school– Burke School
Festival of the Book in Missoula, where I’ll serve on a panel of memoirists and speak seperately
Nov:
Miami Book Fair

Oh, and I got a book deal in the UK, (Little Brown) which I’m so excited about. Book to be published in April.

So why is it that I feel so guilty that I haven’t been to the gym, taken night walks with my dogs, ridden my horse in the woods, etc? I think we all could learn a lot by looking at our pro list and not our con list. I’m going to work on this. I know it’s not about doing. It’s about being. But sometimes we need to give ourselves a pat on the back for what we’ve done. And who we were doing it.

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts