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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #4: Finding your Voice

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.  

 Please enjoy these essays by Haven Alums as the ‘Finding Your Voice’ series continues… and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #7: The Healing Power of Finding my Voice by Laura Probert

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“I don’t want to be married anymore,” I said. Only I wasn’t sure the words had come out, out loud. The look on his face confirmed. I’d just found the voice I’d suffocated for years. I liked her and she scared me a little. Everything was about to change.

Journaling my stories of pain, desires for freedom and ideas about healing core wounds that probably started this mess was therapeutic. Sharing those stories with a small blog audience; powerful. Having the courage to write them for online sites; crazy and magnificent. My voice, once expressed was a thing to behold and one of the biggest teachers of my life.

“Are you sure?” he said. And I was. But having to speak my clarity out loud to him created a challenge I hadn’t expected. Speaking the words, my truth, my revelations, out loud to the world made them real. And today it was about as real as any of my prior days on the earth had been. “Yes, I’m sure,” I squeaked, the sound of the words not as sure as when I had written them in my journal.

We sat on the patio with the sliding door closed and I looked over my shoulder frequently to see if the kids were paying attention. Finding the courage to say the words was excruciating enough without having to wonder if the kids would understand. I could tell when we were done, spent from the emotion and energy it took to convince the other they were wrong, that telling the kids would be easier than this.

I found my journal that night and flipped to the pieces I needed to remind myself of. I read the familiar hand writing and listened to the voice of the woman on those pages who was so very sad. I called my best friend, the one who’d known us as long as there’d been an us. “You’ve never been truly happy,” she dutifully reminded me. “This has been going on for a really long time,” she continued. As I listened my heart softened slightly.

This time I was clear. I’d sorted out all the fear and doubts, daily, 750 words a day. I wrote until my hand cramped and clicked until my elbows complained. Until one of the keys on my keyboard threatened a revolt. I’d satisfied the ache in my gut and convinced myself staying would hurt the kids more.

Five mediation sessions later we were legally separated. Our life in thirty pages of tiny black and white. “It was a pleasure working with you both. This was one of the easiest situations I’ve mediated. Good luck to you,” Steve said as we walked to the elevator together.

The day I wrote and shared my first blog about being separated my voice quivered on the page. What if? What will happen when? Are you sure? They might think… My head was full and I re-read my post a hundred times to make sure it was love motivating me. When I was sure, I hit go. And in a millisecond the expression of my life in words, the voice I’d spent decades learning how to find and speak, she was alive and ready to share.

That was the healing. And everything was about to change again.

- Laura Probert

 

Essay #8: The Day I Heard Me by Noha Al-Kadhi

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I do not sleep at night for more reasons than one.

Some reasons are more prominent than others but they all share one common thread …I quiet them.

I quiet my thoughts and summon them to sleep all day, and I quiet them from coming to life at night.

I have finally come to peace with my sleepless nights and found comfort in discovering what my thoughts need to say as I have given them the permission to breathe.

My words were trying to birth their way into the world and they have found the freedom and their welcoming passage, and this is why;

As I lay on the polished hardwood yoga studio floor on top my perfectly folded blanket I ease my back into the bolster and crisscross my legs into a knot.

I am aware of the large glass windows that overlook the endless forest of trees that wrap around the tiny lake within the vast landscape of Montana which swaddle the grounds surrounding it to create a haven for migrating geese on a rainy October evening.

I stare at the ceiling covered in a soft floating pillow pinched into dimples gazing back at me like an airy cloud breaking into a grin.

With my arms spread wide open as though I am about to embrace a loved one, I slowly close my eyes and fall comfortably still into the soothing calm of what is pure silence.

And in that peaceful moment of stillness which could have been a second, an hour or even days, I found the words to the first chapter of my book.

The words found their way out of my congested head that October evening in the yoga studio because it was their safe haven.

I lay open and vulnerable, shed of all societal and cultural restraints, liberated from judgment and critique. I lay in a circle of love, engulfed within open and kind arms and compassionate hearts who have embraced me and given me safety to be.

My voice ascended from a deep silenced place of judgement, expectations, obligations, tradition, culture, and religion. It broke out of a dark space that held it in for too long, and it now basks in the sunlight of truth…My truth… my story… my journey.

Finding my voice is a liberation to generations of conditioning, and those who walked this path before me, and it is the emancipation for all who are destined follow.

My voice is a truth that has yet to be entirely heard and a freedom I have yet to fully experience.

From the Haven in Montana I have nothing but deep gratitude and indebtedness to ten beautiful souls I have had the privilege and honor to have met and known, shared and wept, grown and learned from. It is with this voice I thank you and acknowledge your kind hearts, beautiful minds, and unique voices that could hear mine way before I could.

- Noha Al-Kadhi

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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 retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Series Blog Series #3: Finding your Voice

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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 Writing Retreats!)…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? The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  

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.  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.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #5: The Voice Between the Words by Erika Putnam

Before my eyes opened this morning I felt a surge of panic. I reached under the pillow and snatched out my iPad. Did he respond to my message? I was having second thoughts about the email I sent last night. It was a sincere and unedited reply to his question, “How do you see yourself having the strength to make this change”? Without much thought, I pressed the send key. Then, I sat with remorse thinking, “oh no!” when he reads that he will think I’m crazy.

Our email exchanges began after a brief meeting. We discovered we were both writers and started sharing ideas about creative expression. His writing rhythm was immediately apparent. His morning emails are full of deep thoughts, descriptive experience and considerate questions. His evening communication is flirtatious and spunky. After hours he addresses me as “doll”, and his remarks have intended to provoke exploration or penetrate subject matter that requires visibility from another level. My morning writing pattern is inquisitive and introspective. By night my writing is random and disjointed. That explains the unpolished and over exposed email I sent the night before. Did I cross the line with my bold musings or create an opening for each of us and our respective lives?

There it is. I open the email and drink his words like morning coffee. He writes, “Did you really write this?” I smile. I hear his voice between the words. He continues on with an eloquent description of reasons to change and peppers it with personal insight and ends stating, “Many of us can imagine the perfect new way of being, but we lack the strength and fortitude to see it through”.

I begin to hear the voice in my mind that is formulating a response to what his writing has touched in me. I let our distance give me permission to be transparent. The voice that writes to him is different than the voice of my external life. I only hear this voice when I have my hands on the keyboard. It is similar, yet different than the voice that writes with purple pen in my journal and draws boxes around the good stuff and stars the margins. This voice is softer than the voice that writes medical narratives. It feels similar to the voice that makes wishes in birthday cards. The voice that wants to reach him has a distinct filter, several channels, and layers of content. It can more precisely describe a thought, image or feeling.

My response teases back, “Did you really write this”? Then, more words creep onto the page, cautious at first. I start with writing about having strength to change and allow myself to feel strong. The sentences begin to express a feeling tone. My inner voice feels stronger, louder, and the pace of my writing shifts. It takes the tempo of passion for a few sentences and then becomes slow and steady. Almost unconsciously, I write words that don’t feel like mine. It is, as if, the spirit of me has taken over. I resign the keys to the voice inside of me that allows connection between my heart and the subject on the page.

I re-read my letter and hear this familiar and separate voice. I see it has taken its seat again in my reply. I am compelled to toss it but instead, I see it through. It has proven to have the capacity to communicate things that don’t surface face to face. I consciously press SEND. He didn’t mention crazy.

- Erika Putnam

 

Essay #6: Denying and Declaring Voice by Brenda Wilkins

Renowned author William Kittredge invited me to review my assignment from his creative writing class at The University of Montana. I fought my father like hell to take this class. He sees no point and he pays my tuition. He wants me in economics and accounting.

‘This is not the short story I assigned, this is the beginning of a novel … a memoir, yes?’ Kittredge asks tapping my paper on his desk when I appear in his tsunami-paper-piled office. Books tip on shelves, and edges of anything, including the chair he clears for me to sit.

‘Yes,’ anticipating admonition.

‘It’s good. You have natural talent. I’d like to help you.’ He’s grizzly bear intimidating, but there is a warm glimmer in his eyes. I stare – in shock at the complement, the offer. This is the best day of my life.

‘I don’t offer that often.’ He says raising his bushy eyebrows under his bushy head of hair. Waiting for me to reply, to understand the extraordinary offer.

‘Thank you, thank you.’ I mumble breathless.  He nods with a slight grin handing me back my writing with ‘SEE ME’ scrawled across the top in red editor’s pencil. I am dizzy and out of body walking across the sunlit campus on this spring day in 1982. Tears well and spill in release. I walk directly to the registrar’s office and I withdraw from Kittredge’s class. I have not seen him since.

I still write.  Just like I have since I was nine and my mum gave me a pink journal with a sweet golden key, and since my mum insisted my father allow me to take Kittredge’s class. I have written through the trauma of my life with my mentally ill husband in thousands of journal pages, and into a memoir that sits complete on my computer.

In 2013 I sit in a therapist’s office in Arizona. I travelled here for intensive trauma therapy.  I am here because I am a warrior in need of a warrior therapist.  I grind through exhausting hours, weeks, months of therapy in the final – I hope – step to heal the PTSD I was diagnosed with shortly after my husband’s first psychiatric hospitalization. In therapy, I find a new freedom to honor all that I am. Including a writer.

I return to my memoir, realizing I must start over. While this memoir has been reviewed, and workshopped with other writers and well known authors I realize it is not my – capital M. Y. – voice. It is the powerful voice of ‘the story’, but it is not my story, my voice. My voice is the voice of a woman telling her own story, not her husband’s. My voice is the voice of woman who acknowledges her frailty and her fortitude. My voice owns her point of view. My voice is from one who knows she is a writer.

At Haven in Montana, I arrive committed to starting my memoir anew. Fellow writers affirm my voice -  not just my story. In the cocoon of beauty, love, guidance and inspiration that is Haven, my memoir unfolds fresh and new in my mind.  I recognize myself in my pages.In passing I share my Kittredge encounter with Laura. She looks as stunned in front of me, as I was in Kittredge’s office as a freshman co-ed. She encourages a promised ‘to do’ from me once I leave Haven.

‘Dear Mr. Kittredge,’ my promise begins. ‘Twenty five years ago you set me on a path to find my voice. It’s time I said thank you….’

- Brenda Wilkins

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with a waiting 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 retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #2: Finding your Voice

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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.  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.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

Essay #3: VOICE LESSONS by Donna Naquin

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Go ahead. Say it! So I did. Somebody had to stand up to this terrorist. No one else seemed capable. Growing up, I lived with an unpredictable bear. Anytime the bear entered a room, I automatically assessed his “temperature.” On this particular spring day, he was hot. I felt my heart quake. At 6 feet tall, the bear, his angry eyes flaring, towered above the teenage me. Umpteen attacks prepared me for the onslaught to follow. Knowing that poking the bear would insight rage, something in me, an integral voice, encouraged me in this “Standing Rock” hour. Ferocious, frantic, and enraged, the bear scoured his cave for his missing piece/peace. Frustrated, he drew me into his eyeshot. Feeling the tension build, courage rose within me, an undeniable fearlessness. I spoke what needed to be said. The bear lunged with grisly force. Blackened eyes, bruised face, streaming tears, frightened and gutsy all at the same time…it was a David and Goliath moment. Windows opened, exposed to the world, I wondered if anyone heard me. I appreciated their frozen fears. They had mastered the art of sheltering in place: to remain out of sight and silent, to comply, to overlook the bear in the room. Speaking was a critical decision, a high-priced “gift” to myself that has served me for a lifetime.  In those marked moments barely uttering, I sang my strength, courage, and truth.

Now, hearing the voice whisper, shout and advise, I befriend it, creating a partnership. Nevertheless, sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t. Isn’t that the way with collaborations? I have become a miner, digging into internal claims and counterclaims. In the old days, miners took a bird with them into a mine… why is that? Is it because birds are sensitive to toxic substances and can signal a disaster? Prospecting has taken me to the top of “Pamper Poles” (one may need a diaper leaping from a 30 foot telephone pole to catch a trapeze… no net but tethered); to summiting a “Fourteener” in the Rockies; to sacred share circles in Bali; to incredible writing workshops in Colorado and Montana; to remarrying after 13 years of single hood post-divorce; and to intimate, authentic connections via pods of likeminded spirits. I carry that bird by my side. My growing edge is to honor and succumb to the whisper to write. Nailing my voice to paper stands my hair on edge and wrestles me to the mat. I get pinned by doubts, insecurities, and questions. With the same quaking heart and tenacity that allowed me to encounter the bear, I practice writing and I am able to confront the skeptic in me. Encouraged by a loving flock chirping, “You can tell a story,” I am inching out on that skinny branch. Creeping closer to the edge, I am confident I know how to fly.

-Donna Naquin

 

Essay #4: FINDING MY VOICE by Julie Steele

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The alarm sounded at 5:44 a.m. Some mornings it woke me, and on others I was waiting for it. I lifted myself from the daybed with Pottery Barn Kids sheets. I lit a candle, slipped the chunky oatmeal sweater over my shivering form. I sat down at the desk that had been my tenth birthday present in the office a few feet from the master bedroom—where I used to sleep. As my second-grader and soon-to-be-ex-husband slept soundly in their bedrooms, I plugged in the iPod and opened my laptop.

A friend had challenged me to write a page a day—an easy task to squeeze into a calendar already packed with full-time employment and motherhood.  I didn’t know I had anything worth reading until I began publishing essays on my blog. Friends read the posts, commented in the affirmative, and asked for more.

This scene repeated itself for months. In the glow of the laptop screen, I dared myself to try fiction. There, I met characters who had not existed before I created them. Each morning, I breathed deeply, and looked at my characters’ lives like a prism, wrote about them from every angle.  A story emerged.

I shared snippets of these scenes with trusted friends. “Is this any good? Could you care about these people? Could you imagine reading an entire book?” Their answers were fuel on those cold mornings. One friend commented, “I’m walking around with her in my head and she isn’t even my character!” Another said, “I’m worried about your character. I don’t like that those men came to her door.”

My beloved character, Astrid, was my muse. With her in my head and heart, I found my voice. She told me what she was going to do next, what she was going to need, and what was going to make her stumble. I was the dutiful scribe that put her actions and conversations on paper. And as I did it, it occurred to me that if Astrid could face the frightening unknown, so could I. That indeed, by WRITING Astrid into existence, I already was doing it.

Astrid went to Montana before I did—in a 30 page e-mail attachment to Laura Munson for her advance review before my attendance at the Haven retreat. Astrid was with me as Laura walked me through her edits and encouragement. Astrid’s story sat open on my lap as I wept on the daybed in a sunlit room at the Walking Light Ranch lodge. Laura affirmed I could do this. She echoed what I knew: I was already doing it. Laura’s pointers about structure and how to refine the writing guide me every day—almost two years after the retreat.

The tears helped me process my relief and joy. After so many years of thinking about writing and talking about writing, I was finally writing. A stronger, clearer version of myself had emerged. I knew I could never go back. Writing will forever be a part of my life and how I navigate the world.

- Julie Steele

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

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 retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016

IMG_0091Thanksgiving is here and families are assembling from all corners of the country.  And unless you come from a family I didn’t know existed, this year brings with it a new challenge, on top of the usual political, religious, sexual, gender, racial, and on and on differences.  This year all of us…ALL of us…experienced something that let’s be honest:  blew us away.  A business man is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America…and it has a lot of people…well, feeling pretty un-united.  This is problematic in too many ways to opine about now, plus I’m probably not smart enough to make any fetching points that haven’t already been made by people like David Remnick and Noam Chomsky.  (Now you know who I voted for.  And why my teenager says, I shouldn’t post this because when you talk about politics, you get “butt hurt” for it.)  I don’t even want to know what that means.  But I am sure:  we all need to find our Thanksgiving gratitude.  So…

I’m not here to talk about politics today.   I’m here to write about something I’m truly worried about for us as a nation:  How to make Thanksgiving work this year.  Really work.  Uh oh…I smell a top ten list coming on.  As you might have noticed, I loathe top ten lists.  But this year…we need to boil some sh** down.  So here goes.  No hate mail please.  I’m trying to help:

1)    Maybe don’t bring up politics or religion AT ALL, and I mean a total moratorium on both of them.  Like even in the family Grace and in the What I’m Grateful For thing.  Talk about the weather.  Talk about the gravy.  Talk about why you love the person sitting next to you.  Talk about the walk you’re going to take after the meal, and on the walk after the meal, don’t talk about anything other than the weather and why you love the person you’re walking with and what you’re going to buy on Black Friday, especially if it’s at your local independantly owned mom and pop shop.  Wait– stay off the homogenization of America theme.  Maybe go back to why you love the person walking next to you and call it good.

2)    Maybe, unless you’re from Cleveland, talk about the Cubs winning the World Series.  And if you are from Cleveland, talk about what a super bitching game it was all the way to the end.

3)    Maybe…be the artsy token weird aunt and say, “Why don’t we take a vow of silence during our meal, in honor of the Pilgrims and how they felt silenced enough to leave their country and fight for their religious freedom.”  Oops.  Axe that.  We’re not bringing up religion or politics, remember.  Or race relations.  Maybe just take a vow of silence.

4)    Maybe ask the host to give you a play by play break down of how she/he cooked the turkey.  If she/he brined…FABULOUS.  This will take up at least ½ an hour of the meal and the pride which he/she deserves will gush.  Gushing joy and pride is a good thing in the way of feeding loved ones.  Let’s raise the rafters on that!  (True to the holiday, we’re going for gratitude.)  If he/she deep fried the bird, you can compliment them on their rogue courage.  If she/he basted every half an hour and made their own giblet gravy, you can take deep bows and call them Martha Stewart.  If you need more content, you can ask them about their position on to stuff or not to stuff.IMG_0097

5)    Maybe play an after meal family game.  Like Pictionary.  Or Scattegories.  Just stay away from Celebrity Apprentice the Board Game, and Bridge.

6)    Maybe decide that this is the year where you truly will put your unconditional love barometer to the test.  Love them all.  Love them especially because they voted for someone you couldn’t stand.  Love them for their differences.  Love them for the conversation that is behind it all:  I need to believe in something.  Everyone is scared.  Voting shows hope.  And that’s what we want in the end:  a hopeful nation.

7)    If you are in grief over the election, find someone who is too and talk to them.  Do it privately in hushed tones.  Is stirring the pot, or even raging at a friend or family member (or some random innocent who was invited last minute) going to help anyone, especially you?

8)    If you are in victory over the election, see #7 and do the same.

9)    Maybe sing Kum-bah-yah and mean it.  It just means Come by Here, which is what you did in trusting sacred traditions and the community of family and friends.  Sing it loud.  Sing it proud.  Sing it because you have the freedom to sing in the first place, no matter who you did or didn’t vote for.  Maybe dust off your old Free to Be You and Me album and sing along!  (maybe skip William Has a Doll)

10) And ten…maybe have a dry Thanksgiving to keep the fight, the right, the wrong, the very ugly out of it.  Or heck, if you’re in MA, CA, OR, WA, NV, or CO, pass a joint around.  Oh wait.  Don’t talk about that either.  Stick to the “this is what I love about you” theme.

May we all enjoy peace this holiday season.  Let love and gratitude show us the way.


IMG_0093Peace and love, (and some humor for crying out loud)

Laura

Are you longing to say what you want to say?  Find your voice?  Haven Writing Retreats is now booking for 2017.  Click here for  our calendar!  The gift of voice awaits you in the woods of Montana.

 

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Thanksgiving, the TSA, and Two Cabbies

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few years ago, which captures gratitude under duress.  May we all travel safely, and with GRATITUDE this Thanksgiving holiday!

 

Give the gift of VOICE this holiday season!

Haven Writing Retreats:

February 22-26 (a few spots left!)

Talking about your travel debacles is about as appealing as talking about your dreams. So I’ll be brief. I missed my flight yesterday, late night in Salt Lake City, after two prior flights, en route to Montana where I live. They shut the door in my face. There was crying and swearing involved. One of the lovely things about living in a town with a small airport: they hold the last plane of the evening. They know their passengers have paid their dues in high prices and multiple flights to get to that last leg over the Rockies, which will certainly go bumptey bump in the night. And they’re decent human beings about it. Usually.

This was the day before the busiest travel day in the United States. This was after a week of being gone from my family on a business trip in Miami, which is a great place for a business trip so I’m not complaining. Put it this way, I’m just glad that the biggest Book Fair in the country isn’t in Fargo. But if it had been, I likely wouldn’t have been wearing sandals to lunch earlier that day and I wouldn’t have likely forgotten to change into shoes, which I wouldn’t have likely packed in my roller bag and checked. I wouldn’t have been getting into a cab in a balmy 10 degrees with my homemade pedicure showing, heading to a Comfort Inn. I would have been wearing winter boots. Which would have been a good thing, since the Storm of the Century was inching its way into Utah, according to the Haitian cab driver, who seemed to be less worried about being cold and understandably more worried about things like cholera. I asked him if he had family back in Haiti. “Yes,” he said. I asked him how he dealt with it. “Day by day,” he said.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had a voucher and a room waiting for me and the hope of a metal flying machine taking me home tomorrow. “What time is your flight?” he asked. “Two thirty,” I said. I saw his head shake. “Is there a problem?” I said, afraid. “The storm is coming in right around then. You might be spending Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City.”

I started feeling sorry for myself again. Who was going to make the organic bird with the organic cranberry relish and the gravy that wins my children’s hearts every year even though they’re in their disgruntled teen and pre-teen years? Who was going to turn on the Macy’s Day parade and put the cloves in the oranges and set it in a huge pot of apple cider? Who was going to make sure that classical music resounded through the house while the turkey cooked? Who was going to polish my grandmother’s silver and make sure the good linens found their way to the table for their first of three annual appearances? Would they eat at the kitchen table? Would there be television involved? Would they forget to read Truman Capote’s “Christmas Memory” at the table? Would they say grace?

I was NOT going to spend Thanksgiving in a Comfort Inn in a blizzard in Salt Lake City in my frigging sandals.

But then I remembered–cholera. Homelessness. Haiti. My little family would be just fine without me, truth be told. And if that happened, I would have the opportunity to practice thanks for not shining silver and a legacy in linens, but things like warmth and safety.

The next morning I turned on the Weather Channel. I have an obsession with this station, and I promise myself that I will not watch it prior to airplane travel, as all it does is get me worried. Who am I to know what airplanes can handle in the way of wind sheer and gusts and blizzard conditions and winter storm warnings? But I did it anyway. I watched the damn Weather Chanel for a solid four hours, fretting and updating my Facebook Page, wanting somebody to cyberly hold my hand. Should I stay or should I go? The storm was supposed to hit exactly as I was to leave. The plane would be small. The turbulence would be fierce. Two things I loathe–small planes and turbulence. I would have the chance to practice all that I’ve learned in the way of fear-busting and inner calm. I’d use that I’m-a soldier-being-rescued-from-the-jungle-fronts-by-helicopter frame of mind I’d procured in hours of therapy. I would breathe and I would practice being in the moment in gratitude.

But DAMN. “If there’s one place you don’t want to be in the country today folks, it’s Salt Lake City.” The anchor man was, in fact, standing at the airport holding onto a pole of some sort, grounding himself from the wind.

I went into warrior mode. “I have a date with a bird,” I said out loud. And I got in a cab, the power lines and Christmas decorations blowing above the streets of Salt Lake. This time the driver was from Sudan, Africa. His country divided in war. Half his family back home. “How do you handle it?” I said. “One day at a time,” he said. I’m not kidding. Both cab drivers.

So when I got to the airport and I raised my hands over my head at security in the pose that the media has been ranting and raving about for weeks, I said, “Thank you.” I smiled at the security guy–
“That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “It’s a privilege to fly, after all.”

“We haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “People want to be safe.”

It’s true. People want to be safe. And when we took off into the wind, bumptey bump over the Rockies, I gave my true thanks. I didn’t need a bird on the table to deliver it. Happy Thanksgiving.

(stay tuned for my famous gravy recipe…)

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Memory Lane Monday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (only a few spots left)
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 retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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As you might have noticed, I resist the formulaic Top Ten lists that are all over the internet, as much as I resist the sound bytes that have become our attention span.  My blog posts are too long and likely too reflective.  But when I started this blog, it was with the express intention of making easy, informal connections with people, without the publishing world as carrier pigeon.  My true love is long form writing– the novel/the memoir, and I am hard at work on three books as I write this post.  That said, when you fall off your horse and bust a few ribs, life reduces itself to the nitty gritty, and it’s worth noting:  It literally goes step by step, and we better be grateful for each one, even though they hurt like hell-fire in our thoracic cavity.  Suddenly, I am finding gratitude for two inches to the left at night in just the right painfree position.  Dodging a sneeze with deep sniffing.  The smell of lavendar oil.  And very ungrateful when the toilet paper roll slips out of my hands and rolls…rolls…rolls…to the other end of the bathroom.  What was last week “another damn trip into town to do errands” when all I wanted was to be in my bed reading and writing during this hiatus between leading writing retreats, maybe taking a little walk…is now something I long for, just like my golden retriever when he’d see our busy purposeful steps to the truck, sure of some sort of adventure that the front porch couldn’t provide.

While these ribs heal, a few minutes on the front porch is all the adventure this body can take, never mind the potholes and washboards of a country road.  And so it brings me back to a Top Ten list I wrote, sort of mocking Top Ten lists, last year that sums up why I love living in my town– this town I can’t wait to re-visit hopefully next week, grateful for the wind in my hair, and a list of errands to do, and even a good old fashioned sneeze.

First, however, perhaps it might be useful to list the top ten possible reasons I fell off my horse and am in this pickle:

To stop working so hard

To feel grateful for tiny things

To stop multi-tasking

To stop letting unfinished projects bother me

To let the piles go

To leave the unpicked up things unpicked up

To make friends with the dust bunnies

To appreciate a firm pillow

To be grateful for a window with a view

To be grateful for people who bring me soup and make me tea

And now…Drum roll….

Ten+ reasons why I live in Whitefish, Montana

September 4, 2015

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(*note:  You’d think it has to do with skiing and golfing…but it doesn’t.)

Because I can go outside to get something out of my car naked.

Because if the UPS guy drove up while I was getting something out of my car naked, he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

Because I can go into town in the same outfit I slept in and no one would even notice and if they did notice they’d say, “Good for you.”

Because we have old fashioned streetlights with hanging flower baskets on them, an ice cream parlor, a toy store, a hardware store, and a brewery (and a whole lot of other cool locally owned stores and restaurants).

Because when you go to the Post Office, people ask you about your kids by name.

Because the health food store owners know more about my digestive tract than I do.  And they hold my babies when we load the car.  (I love you Rick and Dawn.)

Because we have a Winter Carnival where grown-ups dress up like Vikings and Yetis and Queens and Kings and ride floats and jump into a frozen lake.  And lots of people come to watch and think it’s fun.

Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have.  And nobody really cares, if they do know.

Because we’re all the same in a snow storm.

Because we’re all the same in a forest fire.

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Because we’re all the same when there’s a grizzly bear or a mountain lion on the trail.

Because the Great Northern Railroad comes right through town and I can feel connected to my hometown Chicago, and another favorite old haunt, Seattle.

Because Glacier National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list and for us, it’s an easy answer to the question, “So what do you want to do today?”

Because we believe in our wandering rights and have 26 miles of non-motorized trail meandering through our greenbelt, with more to come. (The Whitefish Trail)

Because we have lakes and rivers all around us.

Because it serves up things to write about daily.

Because we have a Farmer’s Market that everybody goes to, even if it’s hailing.

Because people care about the Arts here, (not just about skiing and golfing).

Because on school field trips, my kids go snow-shoeing, ice-fishing, and skiing.

Because they broadcast the local high school football game at the grocery store.

Because people read the local paper.  That’s all we’ve got, anyway.

Because at Christmas-time, we string the same vintage bells across the street as they used in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is that ten reasons?  I need to drive my kid to school in my pajamas now.  Oh, and I need eggs.  But maybe I’ll just get those from the neighbor’s chickens.

See more about Whitefish, Montana

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Ode to Jim Harrison

At The Wagon Wheel in Patagonia, AZ

Now Booking our Haven Writing Retreat 2016 calendar

June 8-12 (still room)
June 22-26 (full)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Ode to Jim 

(1937-2016)
I have started nearly every day of my writing life by reading some sort of Jim Harrison. A line of poetry, a poem, five poems, a few words in a novel, an essay. I try to keep it short. I have to pull myself away before I lose hours. I’ve been doing this since I was 18 and a 19 year boy gave me Dalva. He also gave me e. e. cummings and “Letters to a Young Poet.” So I was set for awhile. But it was Harrison that I was addicted to. You never forget your first Harrison. Or you don’t get him at all. I got him.

He was from the Midwest. I was too. He sorted things out by walking in the woods. I did my best, in the suburbs of Chicago and every summer in the woods of northern Wisconsin, not far from his Upper Peninsula. He was a sensualist. I was too. He gravitated toward edges and defied the middle ground. I did too, but only few told me that was okay– and all of them on the page, namely Jim.

I longed to meet him in person, but perhaps it was better because he did and wrote and felt things that made me blush as a teenaged young woman.  But I read on, because knowing that he went so far out to the edge and got cut there and stayed there bleeding, helped me to take my place behind him, on safer ground.  Still to peer over his shoulder….and wonder about what life could be like if I really lived the wilderness that was in me.  If I was willing to be that honest.  Jim Harrison was honest.  I wanted to be that kind of honest.

I read him all of my 18th summer and knew that I was moving in a totally different direction than the one I had been raised to embrace. I studied how he could make a bird holy in just a few words of poetry. And how he could do the same with the word Fuck. And when I moved to Montana almost ten years later, and found out that he had left the Midwest behind for big sky country as well, I learned how to let Montana be my muse. I walked alone in places that scared me because of him. I went to snow goose migrations because of him. I sat on rocks and logs and stumps and river beds because of him. I paid attention to birds because of him. I went into sketchy small town roadside bars because of him. And I wrote it all down in my own way with voracity that I learned from him.28HARRISON-OBIT-articleLarge

Jim taught me that saints are everywhere. Now he is a saint. Now he’s free of the edge. Now he is all big sky. But damn…I am on-my-knees sad. I will miss you. Thank you for writing so many books. And for the kindness you showed me when we finally connected person to person, and not just heart to word to heart.

I have over 30 letters to Jim Harrison that I never had the courage to send. They were all weepy and whiny and I’m glad I spared him of that. When I finally did send him a letter, it was because I was going camping with my family in southern Arizona and had read that he had a home down there when he wasn’t in Montana. It was a famous bird watching area and I wrote him for advice about where to camp. And then at the end I hazarded these words: “We’d love to meet you for a drink if you’re around.”

I got an email back in a matter of hours. He told us where to go (which turned into a major adventure including wide open sun-caked tundra, more raptors in one place than I’ve ever seen, and helicopters lifting Mexicans out of the fields around our camper at 5:00 am). And he wrote these words that were better than “this one we’re going to publish” from the New York TimesModern Love’ column that launched my whole career. They were, “Usually I can be found around 4:00 at the Wagon Wheel, trying to hydrate.”

I met him there. And that is a story which deserves its own personal essay. For now, in honor of writers who help writers by writing, by bleeding, and by meeting them for a drink, I’d like to share a letter I sent to Jim after my book came out, in addition to my other two mentors (although they wouldn’t ever want to be called such a thing, so I’ll leave out their last names.)

Thank you, Jim, for helping me learn how to think, how to breathe, and how to walk in the woods. And thusly, how to write. Rest in peace. I will never stop being honored by the help you gave me along the way in so many forms.  I’m so sad I haven’t gotten the novel published that you promised to blurb…but you can bet that when I do…there will be a bottle of Domaine Tempier involved, and a big-sky-sized toast to you.

Yrs. (my sign off, which I lifted from you. I’m not sure if it means Years or Yours, but I’ll take both.)

Laura

Here is a  letter on the myth of success and the importance of helping people who are kindreds…

January 29, 2011Harrisonobit1-blog427

Dear Terry, David, and Jim,

I’m writing to you from a sky-dripping grey day in Whitefish, MT where I’ve been holed up all winter trying to remember how to breathe and write novels after the fog of getting a book published, going on tour, national television, and countless radio interviews. It’s felt like all I can do to not get “spiritually scummed,” as David once put it. He was talking about hospital ICUs, not authorly success…but I have found the two to be quite similar in more ways than one, the largest being the need for oxygen and IV fluids. Getting up and speaking about something that you wrote is a little sick. You already gave it to the reader the best way you could in the book. Feels like it’s between the two of them now. But I happened to write a book about a season of my life and people have questions and a lot of times they ask them with tears in their eyes and quivering lips…and like you all have helped me, I want to help them. Especially if they’re writers.

I have used your personally famous line a few times, Terry, when my gut tells me to: “Oh sister in words, what can I do, how can I help?” I just got back from a week in Arizona doing readings and catching up on some much needed vitamin D and thought you of you, Jim, down there in Patagonia with the Elegant Trogons and the Wagon Wheel, thinking that writers need to move around with the birds every so often. Writing with one raven against an ashen sky for four months means things can get a little bleak on the page. I feel renewed, and in honor of that, I’m writing you all this letter, which is one of thanks and also musing. I hope it finds you all very well and your muse plump and ready for more.

Well, you were right, David: “The only difference between being published and not being published is being published.” And you, Jim: “Somebody’s got to get published, any why can’t it be you.” And you, Terry: “Stop trying to get published and write your story.” Three sagacious lines that have held me through the years in the palms of their/your hands and kept me nested when I needed it most. I truly feel that no one in the world quite understands why I live this life the way I do more than you three. I’m sure there are more, but it’s you three in whom I rest.

This year I fledged.

So I thought you might relate with what my current book is about:  The myth of “success.” It’s one I worshiped for too many years and that you all warned me about in your own way. It’s the Green Flash I’ve been waiting for at every beach sunset I’ve watched since 1988, begging “Please let me get published to wide acclaim.” That’s the pathetic prayer I prayed, I’m embarrassed to admit. I ruined a lot of perfectly good sunsets over the years, crying. Probably missed a lot of green flashes too, though I’d like to chalk them up to myth because when we’re waiting, we’re not creating. We’re victims. I got really sick of that. I’d much rather answer the questions: what can I create? 

A person who hasn’t prayed that prayer can’t really understand the destructive nature of this myth. I’m out to bust it. Now, on the other side of that flung beg (I’m not going to call it a prayer—it’s a beg), I can see that all “success” is– the way society spins it, anyhow, is getting paid for something you created, and having people assign it power. But all that’s really there is the waking up and creating something else and sending it out to the powers that be who might pay a bit more attention to you, because of the way that people assigned you power. Or not. It’s all in the creating. It’s all in doing the work. I’ve never had a problem with that, so I think I’ll be able to handle this “cherry popping” (that was for you, Jim) that is becoming a published writer.

I can see that it is possible to go entirely insane running around the country speaking in front of crowds of people who ask the same questions over and over, only to detox from it in a lonely hotel room or a lonely airplane cabin, even though I try to call them womblike to trick my brain. Truth be told, they both smell sickly and inspire a fierce claustrophobia that I have to work hard to quell…and in each, I can’t help thinking about humanity boiled down to basic needs. It happens every time: standing in the airport security line, I can’t stop thinking, wow—all these people have had sex. All these people have lost someone they love. All these people are afraid of dying today—falling from the sky. Or have managed to click into auto mode and are so much the walking dead that I start to feel like if I make eye contact with any of them, they’ll rub off all my edges. In hotel rooms, it’s more the lack of those people, and even more their ghosts.

Hemingway said he could never write anything in the cabin of an airplane and I’m with him. I usually just sit there and tell myself that I’m lucky that a metal mechanized bird can swoop me across the country and deposit me safely to a new adventure. If I do write anything, it’s all about this, so my journals are almost entirely made up of fright, panic, and phobia. (Jim, thank you for our conversation about this.  It helped).  I never seem to write in my journal these days unless I’m travelling, in fact, so if anyone ever reads these journals from this manic “successful” period of my life, I’m sure I’ll be considered a total freak. And maybe I am.

But if there’s anyone who I know won’t judge me for it, it’s you three. And that’s another reason why I feel so grateful that you landed in my life, on the page and in person. Thank you for being fellow “freaks,” Terry you being more like a saint, but there must be something in you which knows exactly what I’m talking about. David and Jim, you are both legitimate freak/saints and you know how I feel about you.

I’ll sign off now. I don’t know if I’ll write another book of non-fiction. You’ve all done it too and you know that treacherous terrain of exposure. I wrote my book because I needed to process a brutal time of rejection in my life and knew that it would help people know that they’re not alone and that they have options.  Dealing with rejection is familiar terrain for writers, and it was an interesting act of prestidigitation (learned that word from you, David), to apply that to a marital crisis.  I’ve heard from people all over the world and it’s been one of the most powerful experiences of my life, so I guess it was worth it. Heart language is heart language and it has its ripples.

Thank you three for speaking this language on the page, and to me. And Jim, thank you for letting me use your poems as bookends in my memoir. Every time I feel ashamed that I have exposed myself too much on the page, I feel held in their warm embrace.

Whenever I hear the jack-hammering of the pileated woodpecker, I think of the sound of the delete key through a long sentence that you had to write, but that serves no one in the end. Part of me wants to do that with this letter and leave you all alone. The other part knows that writers need to be thanked. And that the legacy of that fact never dies as long as there are printed words…

Yrs. 

Laura

Lastly…because I could devote an entire blog to Jim Harrison.  One post just isn’t enough…

One of my favorite Harrison poems is called “Counting Birds” in which he confesses that he has been counting birds since he was a child. It ends:

“On my death bed I’ll write this secret
Number on a slip of paper and pass
It to my wife and two daughters.
It will be a hot evening in late June
And they might be glancing out the window
At the thunderstorm’s approach from the west.
Looking past their eyes and a dead fly
On the window screen I’ll wonder
If there’s a bird waiting for me in the onrushing clouds.
O birds, I’ll sing to myself, you’ve carried
Me along on this bloody voyage,
Carry me now into that cloud,
Into the marvel of this final night.”
–From The Theory and Practice of Rivers (Clark City Press)

May you be carried…Jim Harrison. Peace.

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Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

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So proud of my Haven Writing Retreats Alums and their powerful essays. Permission to be creative, indeed!

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

This is the last of our Haven Winter Blog Series.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  I don’t believe in competition, but I do believe in supporting people for fine work.  This is the post that my Haven team has chosen as the “winner.”  Yet all the Haven alums who have bravely submitted their response to how they give themselves permission to be creative…are “winners.”  Thank you for sharing, thank you for reading, and may the rest of your winter be full of creativity.  From our muse to yours, Laura  

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

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

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It is July. I stand in the kitchen, crying.

“You say you want to write, well write something! Why do you need to go on some retreat? Seems like the first step is to just put some words down…” My husband sounds both pissy and confused.

The words are logical, but miss the point, and it ignites a fire in me. Through the window I see the sun blazing away out in the backyard, and I’m surprised by the power of my anger, and the strength of my conviction.

“I do! I try! But I need help…” More tears flow, accompanied by a recounting of my view of the past several years. And why I think I should go on the Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana. I need space and support to discover a path forward, and to recover the substance of my writing self – my voice.

I brush crumbs off of the cold, smooth counter with my hand and struggle to explain. To convey that the only thing left of my writing dream at this point is the jewel of knowing. Knowing that I need to write. 3 kids, a near-death experience, and years of sleep-deprivation and stay-at-home mothering have just about eaten me alive. And if all I have to go on is this gift of certainty, it is absolutely imperative that I follow it.

My husband is not actually a jerk. He may not fully understand, but he can see that I’m desperate. The truth is, we can’t afford the retreat, and the timing doesn’t make sense.

But these things – bold stands to nurture our deepest selves – are rarely simple or easy. Every story is complicated. So, though it’s a stretch, we resolve to make it work.

And 3 months later, I’m on a plane to Kalispell to find my voice.

prints***

Haven is not what I expected, but it turns out to be everything I need. The four days and nights blur into one another – a circling, rhythmic process that builds and swells.

Here, I am nourished, challenged, awakened, connected, raw, open, terrified, exhilarated.

I laugh and cry and stretch and learn and sit in stillness and silence to face my loudest fears.

I find a single thread that will become my voice, and follow it as it grows stronger, truer, and more substantial. Soon it will carry all my weight.

I am given a path, and a plan to carve out time and space to write – even in the busyness and noise and engulfing nature of motherhood.

I begin to hope.

***Forward

I’m back to my real life now. And back to making that same choice – to honor, protect, and nurture my writing self – in different ways.

These days it’s not a plane ticket to Montana, it’s grabbing a notebook and earplugs, and throwing myself onto the page – ungracefully, maybe, but with certainty.

It’s 20 minutes in the morning to unload my heart and clear my cloudy brain.

It’s 3 hours on Thursdays when the kids are farmed out in 3 directions – and I’m free.

It’s negotiating on Friday night for when (not if) those 2-3 additional hours of writing time will fit into our weekend.

It’s knowing – and willing myself to feel and believe – that committing to this writing is not taking away from those I love. This commitment gives me life. It gives me hope, and makes me more myself. Which, in turn, makes me a better mother, wife, and friend.

Sometimes, making this choice looks like learning to be okay with compromises.

Perhaps it’s okay to throw all the kids in the backyard for half an hour, forbidden from entering the house?

Perhaps it’s okay to allow a few viewings of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (or worse), in this formerly TV-free house?

IMG_0544Or to serve less-healthy dinners a few nights a week to save an hour or two of cooking time?

Experimenting with alternative ways to buy time doesn’t always feel great. I’m still learning. Still haggling with myself. Testing the limits in different directions to see which sacrifices and which trade-offs feel acceptable or sustainable.

Tonight I am not writing. But since that part of me has been resurrected, it’s always running in the background, grounding me. So instead of feeling stuck, lost and echoey inside, and unsure of my direction or purpose, I can embrace all of the not-writing parts of my life more deeply.

I can feel my 2 1/2 year old resting limp against my chest without being burdened. I can breathe deep, feel his soft hair on my face, and acknowledge that he’ll never be this small again, without worrying and wondering what I’ll be left with when he’s grown and gone. Because writing is here to stay.

Alexis Putnam

***Help bring a young writer to Haven Writing Retreats and have me Skyped into your Book Group!  Secure this perk by clicking here!  Only available to five Book Groups…

2016 Haven Writing Retreat Schedule:
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



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Haven Winter Blog Series #8:

bedroom_windowHelp 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

I scan the gate area for the perfect spot.  My two year old is hiked up on my right hip. The carry on strap digs into my shoulder and my other two daughters are hanging on their dad, who is also loaded down with suitcases and bags. I point to a spot with a look.

We crowd in with our pile of bags beside a lone traveller, a woman writing in a notebook on her lap.  My husband takes the girls for snacks.  I love to watch people, and now’s my chance and sitting right here is a lady of great interest.

I try to act nonchalant as I peek at this writer.  She has her feet curled under her like a cat in front of the fireplace all cozy and safe.   She is intense and focused and I am fascinated. How does she do it amid the clamour of a busy airport? I fight the urge to lean over and tell her “I, too, am a writer!” and continue pretending to not watch her.

Is it true what I want to say to her?  Am I a writer or am I just pretending?  She doesn’t seem to have any distractions or excuses.  I have plenty of both.

My distractions return with pretzels, juice boxes and gummy bears.  I smile at my girls and steal glances at the writer. She flips to a clean sheet of white. Soon it is transformed into loops and lines of black ink.  I am in awe.  I envy her.  I envy her ability to block out all these interesting folks moving in and out of chairs with laptops, iPhones, Kindles, newspapers folded under arm and rolling tiny wheeled suitcases.

My daughters are at the windows pointing “Mommy, look at that plane!  Is ours going to be that big?!”  I smile and nod, remembering what we are here for.  My writing friend continues scrawling – her streaming ink flow doesn’t even flinch at my daughter’s squeals. I want to be this lady.  I want use spare moments to capture the spinning thoughts and stories inside me. I used to write on a daily basis, before I had a family, when I was twenty one, unjaded, eager to experience, tromping around the world with my backpack and my best friend, not to write the great novel, but simply because it was a part of who I am.  Writing is how I process the world.  It is my attempt to document the incredible moments in my life and my way of finding my true self and speaking to the truths deep in my soul.  I have been writing my stories since I learned how to use a pencil. That is, until I started all the grown up stuff of marriage, a mortgage and bringing a small tribe of girls into the world.  As the airport writer gathers up her things to leave, I make a silent vow: I promise to write.  Write in a journal.  Write that story burning inside that needs to get out. Write for me. I dig into the bottom of my travel purse and pull out a notebook and pen.

I keep a journal of our family adventures now.  I watch people and write scenes and characters inspired by strangers that I observe at the beach, in campgrounds, in airports, at gas stations.  These entries will help develop characters in the fictional story I am slowly writing.  I am a busy mom but I notice things; I find moments to write, waiting outside the dance studio for my daughters, when the little one is napping, or when the kids watch their favorite Disney movie for the millionth time, I sneak away to the kitchen table even if only for ten minutes.  I have learned to use the little bits of time because I don’t have chunks of time to give to myself at this point with a young, on the go family.  That doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself and my dreams.

The writer in the airport helped me realize that waiting until “someday” isn’t serving my creative dreams; it isn’t showing up for me. Not long after that trip I stumbled across an ad for Haven Writing Retreats in Montana with author, Laura Munson.  I knew this was the opportunity to show up for myself.   I attended Haven in September 2014, and it is the best I have given to my creative self.  It has been an enduring gift of connectivity with other Haven Alum, the writing souls who support and embrace each other’s talents and passions. My Haven experience continues to inspire my daily writing life.  Now that notebook at the bottom of my purse has creased pages with scribbled passages….just the way it ought to be.

- Michelle Irwin

Post #2

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On Creativity

creativity

the precipice on which my life either unfurls into infinite possibility or coagulates into mediocre anonymity.

For much of my life, I held strong to the pervasive myth that people either are or are not creative, and as luck would have it, I just wasn’t creative. Bummer.

I took art classes every week in grade school. I played piano from 6 yrs. old through college. Put any piece of music or image in front of me, and I could play it or draw it. Ask me to sit down and improvise, and my heart constricted in my throat and I froze—“I can’t, I’m not creative.”

The weird thing is, my favorite part of art class growing up was abstract watercolor painting. I made stained glass and wrote poetry. I don’t remember a specific event or particularly embarrassing moment that shifted my relationship with creativity from pure joy to pure terror of being negatively judged. One minute I was carefree and imaginative; the next, paralyzed and guarded. I stopped painting. I stopped playing piano. I stopped writing. It was safer to be “not creative” than to be vulnerable.

I see this shift happening with my daughter, and it breaks my heart. She’s 9 years old. She’s supposed to be dreaming up fanciful adventures, not losing sleep over school projects because she’s scared her classmates are going to make fun of her. Because she believes she’s not creative.

After I misplaced half my life hiding in the shadows, I set out on a quest to resuscitate my long-defunct creativity. I signed up for Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection art journaling e-course. Just the idea of joining it made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t an artist or a journaler. I wasn’t creative.

Despite my inner critic, or perhaps in spite of, I took that first tentative step out of the shadows. One of the tools I learned was writing out actual, physical permission slips, giving myself permission to show up authentically in the world. To admit that I’m not perfect, and not let that stop me from doing things that bring me joy. To stop comparing my creativity to others. To make art if I want to, in any form, other people’s opinions be damned.

One day, I wrote out a “someday” bucket list: it included absurdly unrealistic things like “attend a Haven writing retreat” and “perform with Broad Comedy” and “give a TEDx talk”. When I wrote this list, I was terrified to be seen. I hadn’t written anything remotely akin to “creative writing” in over a decade. I couldn’t even read someone else’s poem at an open mic night, much less one of my own.

True to the Universe’s roguish sense of humor, it conspired to make all of these happen in epic ways. The girl who was petrified with stage fright found herself front and center acting, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t know how to play guitar…I learned fast. I was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as the closing talk at TEDxBozeman. And I’m on my way to Haven II in January, working on two books.

I could have said no to what could easily have been a disastrous guitar-playing debacle. I could have made excuses about why I couldn’t afford Haven. Yet I couldn’t have. There was something gnawing at me, luring me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For me, it came down to giving myself permission to be vulnerable. That elusive, “I’ll feel better about myself if I write it down but I know these things are so totally unrealistic and out of reach” someday list literally changed my life.

Now that I know what it’s like to give myself permission to show up authentically, especially when it includes feeling vulnerable and taking risks, I can’t imagine going through life any other way.

Here’s the deal. If nothing changes, nothing changes. I can choose to believe the story I’m telling myself about not being creative. Or I can ignore my inner critic and practice owning my imperfection and be inspired by creativity.

Every day I get to choose how I want to show up, and whether creativity will play a part. Truthfully, some days it doesn’t. Most days, it’s non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza, and it takes many forms. It comes as poetry or handmade journals. Taking jazz (improv) piano lessons even though it scares the crap out of me. It can be as simple as writing a haiku for my daughter’s lunch.

What matters is that I remember that creativity is magic. Once we no longer see magic in the world, we lose the ability to fully experience life.

I am no longer willing to accept mediocre anonymity. I choose infinite possibility.

Heather Higinbotham

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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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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