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Find Your Voice in Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

***OFFERING SPECIAL SEPTEMBER RATES***

(See below)

“I write in a solitude born out of community”

—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where nearly a thousand people have come in the last seven years to dig deeply into their creative self-expression on the page in intimate groups. That is my invitation to them.

This is my promise: We will dig deeply into what you have to say, and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community.

My call to action: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Writing Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These people were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction. This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later.

It happens every single time. I watch the transformation in each of these seekers as they gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life. Someone who walks the walk and truly wants to help. I want to show you how to ask for this help. Stay with me for a few more paragraphs. There is so much here for you. If you’re reading this…you know…it’s time to open to your endless and wild way with words.

I do this work because it is the most powerful way I can help answer the questions so many of us ask. Questions I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

But so many people out there think they have to be writers to come to Haven. It’s quite the opposite. All you have to be is a seeker. You can seek being a best-selling author. Or simply to express yourself and be seen and heard. Or anywhere in-between. Haven meets you where you need to be met.

Believe me…it took me a long time to trust sharing in a group. (More on that in a bit). For that reason, I designed the retreat that I would want to go on. So Haven offers Processed with VSCO with m5 presetexceptional craft instruction and well-supported workshopping opportunities, a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through your unique heart language. But it’s not just a five day retreat in Montana. After Haven, there is the entire Haven community, continuing mentorship, four additional programs available only to Haven alums, consultation, a private group forum, networking support, and so much more. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done. I’ve seen it change lives over and over again, and that’s why it’s ranked in the top writing retreats in the US. But there’s a lot more to the Haven story…

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life through the written word. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. Yet…I longed to be published one day. In fact, I was obsessed with the ill-conceived notion that I would only matter if I was a successful author. But deep inside of me, even more than that, I longed to have my voice be heard in a safe, small, group of people, and to bear witness to their unique voices too. I needed to find kindreds who understood this longing. So I joined a writing group which did regular retreats. That’s when everything changed.7E47D2C0-DD31-4CF1-84DC-5003DDC80D98

I got to experience the community of kindreds–people I would likely never have met in my regular life. Our little circle developed a haven from our lives where we could express ourselves safely and powerfully, and without the usual right/wrong, good/bad, grade-at-the-end, and the big one: Perfection. We could play. Like children. Even and especially in our darkest subjects. And soon, I learned to prize the process of writing in community, more than being published. Publishing would happen when it happened. I had work to do. I had to learn to truly love, and long for, my voice.

Years later, after sitting at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and finally knowing myself authentically as the woman I am and the writer I am…my dream came true. Suddenly I was a New York Times best-selling author.

1275_10151421704756266_1852761235_nSuddenly I was on major media, going to the book signings of my dreams from coast to coast and in-between, speaking in front of thousands of people at massive women’s conferences with headliners like Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. It was such an incredible honor to share my message with so many people, and it struck me how starved so many of us are for our voices and how to express them.

Over and over again I heard: I want to write. I want to find my voice.

Then the refusals would come.

But I don’t have anything important to say. Someone else has already expressed my message better than I ever could. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the talent. It’s self-indulgent at best.

And I realized that what people are missing is what I know so deeply to be true: The act of writing, whether or not anyone reads it, is where the power lies. It’s in the process. Being published and having accolades and readers and fan mail and all of that stuff is indeed fulfilling, but it’s nothing close to the way I feel when I’m in the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and the permission to say what we need to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! Each time I went out on the road for a speaking engagement or book signing, as much as I loved it…I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

I’ve got a book coming out in March 2020 and I’ll do it all over again. But this time I’ll know that I have a place for those people who long for their voices. It’s called Haven.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day (with some gentle nudging from writer friends) to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it. To show up for it and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this self-expression thing is all about: it’s in the ability to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it. AND…you don’t have to do it alone.

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A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, and if you have a dream to write anything– a best-selling book, an essay, a journal entry, whatever…consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community at a Haven Writing Retreat. And then, become part of the whole Haven community.

NOW BOOKING:

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

Do you long to find your voice? Do you need to take a big bold beautiful stand for your self-expression? Come to Haven this fall and fill your cup. 

Discounted from 7.19-8.1

Sept 18-22 (special rates)

Sept 25-29 (special rates)

Go here for more info or email Laura to set up a phone call directly.  laura@lauramunson.com  

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Inside Out and Backwards

 

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For the last few months I have been putting on my clothes…wait for it: not just backwards, but inside out too. Backwards and inside out. Over and over again. What’s that about? Is it the disorientation of Empty Nest? Is it a mourning period after a one month high of solo travel in Morocco? Is it that I’m alone for the first time in my LIFE on a consistent basis?

Whatever it is, I finally decided that I just don’t want to be without dogs. I’ve never not had a dog or two, and after my old girl passed a few years ago, I decided to let the life drain out of this house, one creature at a time. As much as I wanted to jump back into having a dog, I wanted to see who I was without one, in preparation for my last child to leave for college. I wanted to remind myself that I’m never alone as long as there are birds and deer and bugs and frogs at play in the woods around my home. I wanted my intimacy to be with wild creatures, and I wanted to finally learn the bird songs that I’ve loved for 27 years here in Montana. I’ve known the characters in the symphony, just not what sound they make. Well not all of them. Like…I’ve never known what a sparrow sounds like. Or a junco. Or a pine sisken. Just robins and eagles and hawks and anyway…  Inside out and backwards.

So for the last few years, I’ve walked quickly past dogs, past community bulletin boards advertising puppies, past the pound and the Humane Society, past “I have a friend with a great rescue dog she’s trying to find a home for and I know your place would perfect.” No No No. As much as I longed to say yes, I said on repeat, “I cannot fall in love one more time with anything with a beating heart until I figure out how to care for my own.”

I tried to be happy without a creature in my home. Really. I did. Therapy, yoga, journaling, reading, making lovely dinners for myself, and my contemplative practices. But I like to be in a pack. That’s my truth. And so…one night, with total intention and “flow,” much the way I started Haven Writing Retreats, I put on Facebook: “Hey—anyone know of a dog that needs a home in the Flathead Valley?” I got some leads and soon I was on RezQ looking at three legged dogs that answer to the name of Lucky and I was ready to head over the Continental Divide to scoop up a pit bull/white shepherd blend and make their hearts find home in the way I need mine to. I even said to my daughter, “I’m not getting some pure bred dog. The best dogs I’ve had are rescued mutts.”

And lo, ten minutes later, I’m on the phone with a local friend who tips me off to two English Cream Golden Retrievers from Ukraine who have been show dogs for two years, and now they’re here to breed and find a forever home, and they need what’s called a “Guardian.”

“Uh. I was looking for a rescue dog.”

Turns out that they are a part of a very special program which lets them carry on the excellence of their breed, but also lets them be pets. And it’s all done in Montana with an exceptional breeder who finds only the best homes for them, and always has the best interest of the dogs in mind. Nutrition, exercise, deep committed love, all of it.

Huh.

My mind went in circles: I mean, somebody’s got to be at the top of the breed with integrity, we hope, yes? To protect from over-breeding and puppy mills and the cancer and hip dysplasia and on and on that is a result of greed versus integrity. And this breeder has an undying commitment to these creatures…and these dogs need a home and I have the perfect arrangement for them. And I know my way around adopting dogs which are projects, and these most certainly need a very sensitive dog owner who can help them acclimate from the show ring to the woods of Montana and the few litters they are hoped to have in the next few years. And once they’re done breeding, they are spayed and then…they’re mine for good.

Still, I was conflicted.

Until I met them.

Gorgeous and Beluga-whale-white as they are…they don’t know what they look like, or what their pedigree is. They want what we all want, and it was woven into every fiber of their beings:  to love and be loved. Period. And I can give them that. Whether they’re expensive show dogs, or mutts. We’re all the same. I know this well after being raised in a shiny place and having lived in Montana for 27 years, which sometimes isn’t so shiny, depending on how you define that word. We’ll romp in the woods and swim in the lakes and rivers and we’ll be creatures together, in a pack. And I’m sure, that one of these days, we’ll add a rescue mutt to the mix, because that’s the way I fly.

They came home two days ago, these girls. They are scared, and they are grateful, and so willing to learn and love and be loved. Their instincts are being activated and it’s so beautiful to see! A stick? I want to grab it in my mouth and prance around with it and hope that you will throw it for me. And I’ll chase after it and bring it back to you. A pond? I want to plop my belly into its cool water and then I want to swim in it. Maybe not in that order. I don’t know. I’ve never wanted for water like this.

They are coming fully into themselves, and my instincts are too. I’m happy right now. In a way that I haven’t been happy, outside of my work and my month in Morocco, in a long while. The dark cloud has lifted. I have friends to play with and who want to be with me and who want to walk in the woods. It’s a happy little pack, we three.

So forcing yourself to be alone in order to fully love yourself? I don’t think I agree with that philosophy.  Or maybe I’m just too terrified to be by myself. Who knows and who cares. Because in the last two days, I have taken at least a 30 minute walk every two hours. I’ve spoken in calming tones and stopped my work day again and again to sit with these creatures, and as we say in Montana “love on them.” I’ve stared at trees and loving dog eyes instead of a computer screen. I feel better. I’ve re-acquainted myself with my land again. I’ve sat on a lot of stumps in the woods and listened to bird songs and taught two dogs who likely were raised in kennels what it is to learn the wisdom of the woods. And yes, how to sit, fetch, drop…but with sticks and antlers that they pick up, as they nose around in the trees in this new place called Montana, and find themselves.

Inside out and backwards? Well I bet they feel that way too. But we’re putting ourselves back together—together and making ourselves new. And I’m going to call that good. Maybe we’re all, in our own way, a three legged dog that answers to the name of Lucky.

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Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019! 

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 6

Haven Spring Blog Series

A note from Laura:

Thank you to all of the brave Haven Writing Retreat alums who have shared their heart language here in these past weeks!  I hope that their stories of using writing as living have inspired you to do the same!  The best way I know for you to find your own heart language…is for you to come to Montana and experience the gift that they gave themselves!  Please enjoy our last Haven Spring Blog Series post which shows that ultimately it is up to ourselves to take a stand for our creative self-expression.  If you would like more information about how to find your voice, in the way that these writers did, there are links and testimonials at the end of this lovely piece.  I’m now booking for my September retreats!  Thank you for following along in our blog series. 

Yours,

Laura

Katherine Cox Stevenson - My Secret Writing Cabin

Pulling over, I glanced in the rear-view mirror to make sure my husband hadn’t followed me, another new activity. I managed to get out of the house with my regular, “Off to run errands. See you later.” This was met with silence or, “Who cares,” or, “Ok honey. Have a nice time.” My husband’s behavior changed like flipping on a switch. I walked on egg shells for years as he experienced cognitive decline. He had no insight. In the early days, I tried talking to him about changes, and his response was always, “You are making this all up because you are an RN and have some kind of ulterior motive.” We were talking major changes like when he grabbed me as I came into the bedroom. Eyes flashing, jaw set, urgent whisper, “Look!?! A severed leg!!” It was clothes on the bed.

I lied to my husband. I wasn’t heading out to run errands, instead escaping to my tiny secretly-rented writing cabin, a gift to me three or four afternoons a week. Writing in journals has been part of my life since childhood, on and off. Mostly off as I immersed myself in endless education. However, as soon as my husband’s illness started, I turned to writing words on pages. I am confident writing saved my life all those years. Without it, my name would have been added to the all-too-common statistic of care-givers dying first.

My husband rarely went out and did nothing except sleep, read, and stick to me like glue when he wasn’t giving me the silent treatment. A total personality and behavioral change from the man I married just nine years prior. I wrote in my home office but felt like a caged animal and one afternoon called a realtor from my car.

“I need to find a private place to write. Do you know of anyone who has space for rent?”

Within two hours, I held shiny keys for a furnished writing cabin in the woods. Nestled away, not visible from the road, full of peace, calm, and safety. None of which existed at home. I kept the cabin a secret and no one was ever there with me. Why? Because I needed something just for me. Writing in that cabin was literally an act of living when everything around me was disintegrating – my husband’s brain, our marriage, friends gone, no one believing me.

Haven SubmissionNot seeing my husband behind me, I pulled into the gravel driveway. Climbing two stairs, a “welcome” mat at the door. Welcome to this writing sanctuary where I lost myself in words, in creativity. Writing was a guide to try and make sense of the hellish life I lived. Putting pen to paper and/or fingers to the key board, I explored, found answers, vented, kept records, and managed to keep sane. Everything of my life outside that cabin was insane.

That February afternoon, the sun shone brightly in the one room kitchenette and living area. The soft cream colors of the walls and furnishings were refreshing in my otherwise way over stimulated life. Dropping my computer case on the chair, I opened the glass door to enjoy the large fir and cedar trees and was delighted to see numerous song birds at my recent gifts of seed and suet.

The air was fresh and after returning inside, I made tea and arranged writing materials. Lovely bound journals, colorful pens, and lap top on my beloved small wood writing desk under a large window. As soon as I sat, tears streamed followed soon by chest heaving sobs. At my writing cabin, pent up grief spouted out like winter rain mountain runoffs.

Once that energy was expended, I lit a candle and always started with what I labeled, “Daily log” – detailed notes on my husband’s condition, “Last evening he threw my suitcase over the fence.” Then it was my time for writing – a memoir, my journal, and trusting the process of what wanted to make its way to the page. Time flew and soon I needed to leave. Couldn’t I just stay there? Please?

Our tiny island is so small the drive home took about eight minutes. Girding my loins, as was my new normal, I walked into our little blue house overlooking the Salish Sea. My husband didn’t look up from reading. I slowly approached the couch offering greetings. He raised his head and there was the familiar look of disdain, “Where the hell do you go during afternoons!?”

Thank you, Katherine.  I’m so glad you found your own personal haven in that little cottage.  

For those of you who would like to find your haven…come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…

You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (one more spot)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thingBut on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 5

Haven Spring Blog Series

Colleen Brennan - December, Hill City, Idaho

I am kicking at chunks of snow outside an abandoned saloon/store on Hwy. 20 in Hill City, Idaho. With peeling paint and boarded-up windows, the building offers the empty promise of beer and wine, restrooms, local honey, and gifts. A truck sits dormant behind the saloon, enshrined in a foot of crusty snow that dazzles so brightly it hurts my eyes.

I stare at the sun and when I look away, my sunglass-covered eyes picture large pee-colored circles everywhere I gaze. Judging by the burning sensation in my nostrils, I figure the temperature must be in the single digits. It hurts to breathe.

But I can’t get back in my car. Not yet. My heart is still beating too rapidly and even though it may be only 8 degrees outside, I’m sweating on the inside.

I live in southwest Idaho, and I’m driving to the east side of the state to stay for a few days with a man I began to love eight months ago.

My 1999 Camry has kept me safe, for as many years, on dozens of solo road trips (including one to Whitefish, Montana, that changed my life). I have been forced to the side of the road just now, not by an angry trucker or a herd of migrating elk but by the feeling that I would start hyperventilating if I didn’t stop and pay attention to my accelerating pulse, sweaty lower back, and muddled thinking. As I spritz my tongue with Rescue Remedy, I try to imagine a soft periwinkle light radiating warmth and enveloping me in calmness.

What’s going to happen to me now, at this point in my life, if I can’t even drive for four hours alone without feeling like I’m going to die?

When I told my dad about the panic attacks that set in just before my birthday, he said, “Next time, call me. I’ll talk you down.”

I would, if I could, call him right now. But I have no cell reception out here in the shadow of the Soldier Mountains, and Hill City – much less a city than an empty roadside saloon – offers no wifi either.

The shadows of the saloon cast a blue-gray light that stretches out like a yawn along the frozen ground. What’s left of the paint on the building is a sickly yellow jaundice, the color of my insides.

Wide tire tracks leave a herringbone pattern at my feet. I’d like to knit this pattern into a sweater, so I take a photo with my phone. Two different tire tracks intersect, forming a V. The track on the left resembles a diagonal line of seagulls, wings held frozen on the up-stroke. The track on the right mimics sandpiper feet, minus one toe.

Hill City_ColleenBrennanThe word integument comes to mind, and I try to write it in a notebook I carry in the little compartment between the front seats of my car. I’ve discovered that it helps to write things down when I find myself in the midst of what feels like a complete break with reality. Language is my savior; writing, my guide.

The cold air is preventing the ink in my pen from transferring to the paper in my notebook, so I climb into the back seat of my car and begin to wonder, in writing, why the word integument has popped up in my addled brain. It’s a covering, isn’t it? A layer that shields a vulnerable organ. Like feathers protecting bird wings.

Is that what anxiety is? The envelope that protects a person from getting hurt?

I’m thinking, I still have the Craters of the Moon to drive through, the vast lava rock fields surrounding the black asphalt on the eastern section of Hwy. 20. The blackness makes it tough to navigate after sundown, even without an out-of-whack limbic system.

But, for now, I don’t think about the dark stretch of road ahead of me. Instead, I follow the movement of pen over paper and marvel at the healing, protective power it provides.

Christine Lazorishak - Just Another Year

I needed 2018 to be a good year, but my intuition told me something bad was going to happen.    At 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I woke drenched in sweat with my heart hammering. A tingling sensation started in my left arm and trickled down my leg.  Numbness spread up my face, as if injected with novocaine. The odd sensations swept up and down, while my brain imagined the worst.  Scared I was having a stroke, I woke my husband.

“It’s probably your anxiety,” Brian muttered, reminding me of previous panic attacks.  He sounded like all the doctors I had been to over the years.

“Not everything is caused by anxiety,” I snapped.

familyhugQI2A5222-36I didn’t have a stroke, and stress did appear to be the culprit.  It made sense, 2017 was a rough year of loss and health issues for our oldest daughter.  We decided a trip for spring break was just what we all needed. A respite from the harsh Montana winter might help and give us time to reconnect with our two girls.

We had gone to Maui two years before, over Thanksgiving break.  It was blissful – culminating in a vow renewal on the beach at sunset to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We wrote our own vows. I wore a gown the color of blush pink peonies, the girls cornflower blue. It was the wedding of my dreams.  We couldn’t wait to go back.

The tension released from my neck when we landed.  Our first days were spent with our feet in the sand, eating good food and whale watching.  We made plans to hike down to the Olivine Pools. We read about them in a popular tourist book; they were a must-see.

The view over the Pacific was dizzying, the path down a jagged, rocky descent.   The girls ran ahead.  I was distracted by the memorial of a child who died there and wanted to read every word.  Brian was getting impatient; the girls had not waited. I wanted him to yell for them to slow down.  He wanted me to hurry up. Time moved slowly, as we hiked down. Once at the bottom, I barely had time to catch my breath before our oldest, had stripped down to her swimsuit and wandered towards the ocean.  One minute she was there; the next she was washed away by a rogue wave.

“In the blink of an eye” is not just a saying.  She was screaming “help” and “I’m sorry.” Brian was running through the rocky pools.  The sound of the waves slamming against the rocks filled my ears. With another blink, he disappeared.  Leaving my youngest behind, I stumbled to the edge of the pools. Looking down over the rocky edge, I could see them in the turquoise water, waves crashing and swirling.  I was scared I could be swept away, too. I knelt next to a man who threw an orange towel to my daughter. Using all his strength, Brian pushed her towards the towel.  She fought against the current nearing it, while the undertow dragged him away.

“You’re a strong swimmer, keep kicking,” I yelled to my daughter.  The man threw the towel again. She grabbed it and he pulled. A wave washed her close enough to grab an arm.  Together, we yanked her, battered and bloody, over the rocks and to safety. When we all looked back to the turbulent ocean, Brian was no longer swimming.  I can still hear my own screams. What followed only happens in movies. It is a movie that my daughters and I now have on perpetual replay, even though we never speak of it.

I always believed I would be the first to go.  I was the one with health issues and anxiety, and worried constantly.  Brian came from tough Ukrainian stock and rarely went to the doctor. I always envied his “worry about it when it happens” philosophy.  I wanted his wiring. He kept me in check. With or without premonitions, the unthinkable can still happen.  No amount of worry could’ve prevented this.  Now, I try to listen for his words to guide me and strive to live in the moment.  Sometimes I hear whispers that all will be ok.

It’s a new year, 2019.  I crawl under the sheets, pull the comforter to my chin and wait for the dog to settle, like I do most nights.  He lets out a long sigh, and so do I. Another day is over, another year gone.  I look to my nightstand where Brian’s picture stands, and see that charming smirk and dimple.  Maybe he’s trying to be funny, laughing at me or thinking he loves me. Either way, I kiss that picture good night, wishing I could say “I love you” one last time.

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 4

Haven Spring Blog Series

Erika Putnam - The Last and Best Chapter

As I creep up one stair after another in my slippers I can feel the gradual rise in temperature from the warmth of last night’s fire. From the kitchen window I see the pasture below is glistening with fresh snow lit by what’s left of the moon. That means my morning routine will change from meditation, to the sound of my shovel scraping rhythmically across the deck. Before I venture out to breath natures chill I stoke the embers in the wood stove and brew a fresh cup of coffee. The routine itself is the companion I have crafted to allow a shift from the life I had to the one I want.

A bit chilled, I settle into the left side of the love seat and pull my coffee cup close. A new flame flickers in the fireplace and casts an eerie light on one half of the face of the Dall sheep mount perched above me. It’s before dawn and the Montana mountains are sleeping in the distance. The tall pines envelop my cabin from all sides and offer me the secluded privacy that gives my thoughts the space they need before I commit them to the page.

I have been writing a book for 8 years, and the ending has eluded me. Before the idea solidifies it evaporates like morning fog. Some things can’t be forced! At long last, a concept has emerged from the shadows of my spirit. The ending has needed the last two seasons of bear grass, huckleberries, and golden birch leaves to infuse what was then with what is now. Living here with nature’s raw edges has roused my desire to let go of a long lost love. My resistance has softened and the last and best chapter has condensed into a solid vision.

I am eager to pick up where I left off and open the Word file titled “Book Edits.” I am surprised to see I haven’t opened this file for almost two years. With a wince, I open chapter 3 and begin to read.

IMG_5314I loved my husband but our home life was making us both miserable.  It was 2010. The economy was assaulting our investments and we were both failing step-parenting.  To cope I buried myself in my computer with my mouth shut. He had withdrawn into guilt, shame and fear. Our battleground was set.  We were not talking. Not talking leads to fanaticizing about things being different, which leads to obsessive thinking about a way out. Which leads to looking deeper for the truth about what I really wanted if I would get really honest with myself. I started writing a lot, looking for answers, waiting for my heart to speak up and speak up loudly.

One night I couldn’t sleep. Despite my insomnia, I was more willing to spend time with my computer than I was lying awake in flannel sheets of sorrow.  It was two AM and I had perched myself on the leopard skin fainting couch and tucked myself into a writing nest with a blanket. My heart was as frayed as the grey sweatshirt I was wearing.

I was writing because I was searching for answers. I was giving myself permission to trust my truth. I was frightened to be completely honest but I had a desire and passion to find clarity. My motives were good. I meant no harm.  My truth in this moment did not exclude my love for my husband or our marriage. What I was writing was not meant to be time stamped forever. My thoughts had been fleeting and irrational. I was writing to discover my intention as a way of self-exploration without confinement.  I wanted to stop my own suffering.

I heard him roll out of bed. The bedroom door opened and my husband walked past me to the kitchen. He didn’t reach to brush my shoulder or kiss my head or even peak at my computer screen. I know he wasn’t thirsty, he was checking on me. He asked “what are you doing?”

I was cheating.  I was cheating on him.  I was writing, and it was about a man of my past. The one that got away, long, long ago.  I looked up, said “writing” and looked back down at my computer. I felt like shit.

My husband wandered back to bed but left the tension in the air.  The words started spilling onto the page.

Painfully, I recall that moment. I absorb the words and look outside to the gently falling snow. At last, the ending of that story makes sense. Moving on has closed the chapter of past suffering. Now, my fireplace has become a friend, my dog a companion, a sheep a reminder of my perseverance and winter the inspiration to finish eight seasons of waiting. I take a deep breath and begin typing the ending.

The story flows out and the sun comes up.  I reach over to my dog, Zen, and rub her soft copper ears and say “Hey beautiful girl, writing time is over, let’s get to work.”  I add a log to the fire and feel the deep understanding that my last chapter is now becoming my first.

Cynthia Urquhart - Those Words

It has always bothered me how my notes, words that I choose, cold and professional, would be the only vessel used to capture the circumstances of tragic incidents.

I reached for the little black notebook in my uniform pocket. For a fleeting moment, I tried to think about how many of them I might have filled, during my many years of policing, but lost the thought as I heard the ambulance pull away. The bright moon gave off enough light for me to write and with pen in hand, I was finally able to record the details of the night’s tragic accident.

I looked at the wreckage again, making sure my notes would be accurate.

Writing is something I do, all police officers do, every shift, in all kinds of circumstances.  My words flow easily, as they do at every incident, but they are harsh, empty, and detached. Businesslike with lists, descriptions and facts. I am used to it…well, I tell myself I am. I start writing: time, date, place. Information that is straightforward, rote and methodical. Head on collision, thrown from vehicle, one dead, two injured.  Disturbing, but manageable.  Names, dates of birth, next of kin make it real.  What I don’t write is this:  Anguish.  Their anguish, or mine.

I hate that words like grief and sorrow and despair are kept locked inside me by policies and procedures. No notations, no references, no freedom to be me, no place for my heartache in my notebook. How I want to release my pain. My sorrow. Words. Inside my head, they form, they flash, they bounce, searching for a way out. Looking for validation. I see them. I feel them. I fight them every day and every night. Until I can’t.

Same time, different day. I opened my eyes, panicked, turning towards the dimly-lit clock on my bedside table. I had been waking up at night for months, my therapist stating this was normal for someone suffering with PTSD. She said my brain was trying to process the years of buried trauma, that I was fighting it and that it would take some time. I often wondered how long “some time” might be, considering I had been in treatment for 2 years. I shifted my eyes to the journal sitting on the bedside table, purchased over 3 weeks ago, never opened, nothing to write. Or so I thought.

I stared ahead into the blackness, feeling a little more awake, but something wasn’t right. I could see the words. They were black, illuminated in white, in my head. Words like urgent and dread, calls, cold and cries. There were so many and they kept coming.

My panic rose and nothing made sense. I need to get up, I thought, and as I did, my eyes caught the journal and pen again. I wondered if I wrote the words down, got them out of my head, then maybe they might go away.

I grabbed the pen, picked up the journal, and opened its cover. I can’t explain what happened next, nor for the next 20 minutes to be exact, but I can say that the pen wouldn’t stop.  The words flowed like water from a tap and revealed the stories from my world. The pain lay on the paper like shattered glass. Pieces of it here and there, big and small, sharp and jagged.

As quickly as it had started, it stopped. My mind was blank. The words were gone.

What just happened?

I sat there for a minute, turned on my reading light, grabbed my glasses, and began reading.

The call came in, I filled with dread

Who would be the next one dead

A child, a man, the dog next door

Cause someone needed to settle a score

There were words of sadness and pain, anguish and hurt.

The dispatcher said the news is bad

A child is screaming, she’s lost her Dad

She’s all alone, just 12 years old

She says his skin is growing cold

Memories I had buried so deep.

I walk to her, I hold her tight

I tell her it will be alright

My tear slips out, then two then three

The grief engulfs the whole of me  

Those words made me see my pain and feel the hurt. Those words, in that instant, changed my life. I had fought against all of it for so long. Words, writing, stories and emotion. I smiled as my tears began to flow, thinking how ironic life could be. Words…the very thing that had closed me up and shut me down were now setting me free… .

 

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thingBut on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 3

Haven Spring Blog Series

Lauren Plunkett - Winter Wonderland

Seriously, could it get any colder?! I prefer not to go outside from November through March in this frozen northland but I must. I arrive at work, stuffed into my heavy jacket like a Christmas box sent from Grandma. I peel off jacket number one to allow four inches of impenetrable cotton and Lycra to breathe. My look today is hardly office attire unless clocking in somewhere in the Himalayas but do I care? Not today, winter. Thankfully, my office is tucked away from the majority of the inhabitants in this shared space of white walls.

Some may say that the view from my fourth-floor office window is Minnesota lovely if gazing through sideways sleet upon leafless trees and salt covered side-streets that sideline the highway, is your thing. My entertainment today will be the sound of kissing bumpers and I’m confident the screeching will begin soon. First comes brakes, then comes smashing, then comes the lanes of traffic parked in an orderly fashion. How delightful. I chuckle realizing there’s a worse place be.

In winter, just when you think your dues have been paid a costly opportunity comes knocking uninvited, like Uncle Eddie. I choked my chuckle back remembering that last year a driver poorly attempted to parallel park and rammed my car so hard it was lifted from the street. Right now, the last thing I need is someone tossing salt into my already sour mood. Snap out of it! Watch the sleet, take off a layer, and sit down.

I gaze longingly outside my office window hoping the scene will miraculously change into a perfect picture of sparkling sunshine that makes me sweat just looking at it. I want to feel the sun burning my skin and hot on my wavy hair. When I close my eyes I can feel a hot ray on my face and catch a waft of sweet coconut oil. My heart knows that paradise can be found in a shot of vitamin D chased with a gin and tonic. For just a few blissful seconds I’m taken away from this frigid desk where I’m frozen in thought. I’m one layer less and thawed out now but my winter boots are buried in the sand.

winterThe sands of time say wake up from your daydream and be an adult. You worked hard to sit at this desk and you better learn to love it. I’ve already whimpered away the entire morning but lo and behold excitement has come my way. LUNCH!

It’s time to walk it off and wake up my hands and feet from self-pity and lack of circulation. The temperature outside is sub-zero but the feeling inside this office is as cold and dark as a starless night’s sky in the dead of winter. My headphones have been fixed to my ears all day to protect the innocent victims I will make if provoked to speak. Therefore, I put pen to paper and begin to furiously write, which becomes the solution to keeping my big trap shut.

I write because I’m angry with what I cannot control. The sleet, the freeze, this office of discontent. I wish I could make this my happy place but I am but a single snowflake melting on the surface. There may as well be smoke and flames coming off my pen as I write as fast as possible to keep up with my mind firing anger-bombs that cannot be allowed to escape my lips.

We, mortals, cannot control the passing of time and the patterns of weather. Both of these things are getting the best of me at the moment so I write to take control of my emotions. I thank these crisp blank pages that allow me to purge words that don’t have meaning. I don’t understand why I have to write but I do it and it’s right and true. I have so much to say but where do I put all my words and who on earth would want to read them?

Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight another person that’s as miserable as I am might be writing to escape, just like I am. Maybe they write to save themselves from being judged or misunderstood. Maybe one day we’ll read each other’s words and be bound by a hatred of sleet and love of heat.

The lunch buzz has worn off and time has melted away. The temperature has dropped a few more degrees and the sleet has turned to ice. I bundle my layers, belt my heavy jacket, cover my face so just my eyes show and prepare to face my four block walk on a snowy sidewalk. The sun never came, but at least it’s happy hour and I have several freshly inked pages to show for a productive day on the job.

Laura Di Franco

“Come with me,” I pleaded, “It will be fun.”

“Not my thing,” he said. And the conversation ended. I sat on my unmade bed with the faded white down comforter half on and half off me and frowned. The rejection sat in the middle of my chest, like it had for decades. I brought my palm up to rub out the pain.

Fuck this, I thought, I’m not doing this again. I’m not going to let someone else’s no mean so much this time.

But it did. I did, let it mean something. I let it mean I was unworthy and unlovable. Then I remembered who I was and jumped off the bed, slid my new Ugg slippers the kids gave me for Christmas over my cold toes and headed down the hallway to my refuge.

The notebook was where I left it last, sitting on the special shelf in the kitchen I’d created for my collection; all different colors, shapes and sizes, some with sparkles and some more bland. I grabbed at the last one I’d started writing in and shuffled for a blank page, excited, ready to heal something.

My breath was deep and slow and relief fell through my chest and arms deep into my heart. My soul breathed with me and the words came:

I think I was once

so used to

the sadness and pain of rejection

I didn’t notice how tightly

the shrink-wrap molded

and melted

and burned

into the crevices of my heart.

Like a straight jacket

if you wear it too long

you learn to breathe shallowly

and survive.

You figure out how to live

and move

with the restrictions.

I finally allowed myself to feel

the crushing pressure,

smell the charred flesh,

notice my soul gasping

under the clench.

Today I know it will never be something

I give myself permission to get used to again.

But I had to feel it to enjoy that power.

I had to recognize the subtle

quiet

suffocating

infection

so I could know the slightest attempt

at a future attack

and swiftly step up to love myself

so fiercely

the light of my own essence

would shine on rejection

and the truth would show through…

I’m enough.

And I’ve always been that.

I titled my poem I’ve Always Been That. Many of my poems seem to end with the title. There’s something I like about that. A feeling it gives me. The tightness in me eases. The bigger thing takes over and it knows. The relief is palpable. The poem heals me.

I can hear him in the hallway bedroom. The door is closed. I slowly turn the handle, open the door a crack and poke just my head in to find him hypnotized by the game on his big-screen.

“Okay I’m going to go. I’ll see you when I get home,” I say a little easier than I expected.

“Okay,” he says.

And I go. And it’s okay that I go by myself. Like really okay this time. Going alone doesn’t mean I’m a loser. It doesn’t mean anything more than I make it mean.

I walked back to the kitchen where I’d left the pages of my notebook open, pen resting in the middle crack, and read my poem once more. And a smile came.

I’m enough.

And I’ve always been that.

 

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)

If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 2

Haven Spring Blog Series

Stephanie Rumold

I walked out of the bunkhouse and felt the smile move through my body.  I love this place, I thought, inhaling the cool, crisp air, its healing tendrils stretching through me.  It wasn’t just the air, or the sunlight peeking through the trees, or the mist left from the rain that morning which gave the air its heaviness, or even the tender care of the Dancing Spirit Ranch team.  It was the writing. I had all the space I needed to write at this writing retreat.

I feel more me, than I remember being.  The thought jumped into my mind, making my smile widen and my brow furrow at the same time.

Looking back, I see both the truth of this statement and the strangeness of it.  How can I be less me?

Well, thank you for asking.

Apparently, I can be less me by turning pieces of me off, which is what I did many years ago.  Had you asked me in my teens and even into my early 20’s what I really, really, really wanted to be, I would have told you:  I want to be a writer.  And, looking back with the perspective of a woman in her 40’s, I will admit, I wanted it a lot.

As a very practical person by nature, this was not the career path I pursued.  In fact, I didn’t even let myself write for fun after college. Journaling, sure, but making stories up in my head?  Creating dialogue? Letting my imagination out on paper? ‘To what end?’ my logical mind asked.

So, here I sit, in a posture abandoned in my 20’s, as well, my knees tucked under my butt, leaning over the table and writing about a time I left a piece of me behind and my journey to reclaim it.  That journey started seven months prior, as I was sitting with 200+ strangers at a creativity workshop led by two writers that I admire.

We were halfway through the second day of the workshop when I scrawled a question into my journal, “Are you a writer or not?”  The letters were small and illegible, as if I worried that someone would pick up the journal and read the question later and scoff.  Moments earlier, it had dawned on one of the leaders of the workshop to pose the following of her audience, “This was billed as a creativity workshop.  And, all we’ve had you do is write. I’m wondering, how many of you are not writers?”  She paused for a quick tally and observed, “Ok, about half.”

Since I did not raise my hand, I was feeling rather proud of myself.  I did not identify as “not a writer.” Maybe, in some deep dark place in my soul, I knew I am a writer!  The chills hadn’t even made their way from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes before she followed her question up with, “Ok, how many of you are writers?”

It was here that the bitchy side of myself mentally shouted at her, Hello?  Half! I know you are an artist, but come on, lady!  This is easy math. If there are two choices and half of the group is one thing, the other half is clearly the other!!

And, yet, I didn’t raise my hand here, either.  So, maybe it wasn’t such a stupid question after all.

It’s funny how life can change based on a stranger asking a question to 200 people that seems to be meant just for you.  Are you a writer or not, Stephanie? So, here I find myself a year later still trying to own this orphaned piece. Still trying to say “yes” when someone asks me, are you a writer?  I’m getting better at it. That piece is growing and getting stronger. Maybe at one time it was like that little plant growing in the fridge in the movie, Wall-E. But now, it’s more like a small garden, growing in an atrium.  One day, if I continue to care for it, it might turn into something mesmerizing and powerful like a rain forest.

Because going on a writing retreat helped it grow and reintroduced me to the feeling of knowing myself.  Going on a writing retreat gave me permission. Permission to use writing to process grief. Permission to escape into the world of my book.  Permission to write poetry. Permission to try and fail. Permission to try and succeed. Permission to be a writer, and, thus, permission to take back this piece that makes me feel more me…than I remembered being.

More Me:

Writing Daily.

Working through grief.

Brainstorming, creating.

An extraordinary relief.

Giddiness, my story.

Crackling energy.

More me than ever

I remember being

Nicole A Grant – Writing Truth

“I’m home!”

I make my way to the living room. He has planted himself in the same usual corner of the crimson L-shaped sofa. The television, to my left, would under usual circumstances be tuned into some political talk show, but now stands eerily silent; his cellphone lies face down on the glass-topped coffee table in front of him, an island between us. His attention is single-pointedly affixed in this moment to the screen of his laptop, perched on his knees, a physical blockade; and he holds in his right hand his glass of Pinot noir, an accomplice. My senses heightened, I can almost taste the sweet, oak-wood smell from the way he is swirling his wine, the rest of him moored, immovable as a mountain.

There is a studied perfection to his whole demeanor that makes my hair stand on end. “What is it? What?” I demand. The nervous energy is like a zone of high-tension voltage wires. He says nothing. He doesn’t even look up from the screen on his lap. This lack of basic courtesy irritates me to no end, the way he just ignores me like that, no acknowledgment. The swirling wine and silence are deafening and I so want to say something to mitigate my own discomfort (and irritation), but remain statue-like and dumb. The way he has barricaded himself into a corner with his strategic placement of technological and alcoholic defenses says everything I need to know really, and I know this beyond the level of platitudes at which we have been surviving for far too long now.

I will him to say something, but still he baits me with his silence. My hoarse indignation mounts. For too long I have been striving for answers to questions I don’t know to ask; I have thought myself a fool or crazy for all the confusion I have felt; and the worst of it, I have become this person I don’t want to be because of him, prying, snooping, spying. STOP! I scream inside. I…Just… Want…To…Know. The only certainty I have is that my mind misleads me and cannot be trusted. He looks over at the dark television screen, and I can almost perceive his ruby-red thoughts swirling in synergy with his wine.

Here’s the thing: Alone night-after-night in the queen-sized bed meant for two, the discontent, and more recently, the sheer torment I feel in my relationship to him flow onto the pages of my spiral-bound notebook—I have more than one which tells you something right there. In the dark hours of so many pre-dawn mornings, I take refuge in the all-encompassing silence and the fragrant comfort of coffee and, instead of my allotted meditation practice, allow a waterfall of words to pour from my pen.  While my heart splinters, my soul speaks to the page of the very things my eyes cannot see and my mind cannot explain. These words that I have written know the empirical truth, but my mind cannot separate fact from fiction. The brain is always lying it seems, or just plain wrong, but I have an overarching awareness of the truth and, conversely, of my complacency behind not wanting it.

The lack of peaceful coexistence between my wise intuition and my naïve ignorance alerts me to this inner conflict that has the texture of sandpaper and the astringent taste of unsweetened black tea. The fact of the matter is that knowing-for-sure means I’d have to make a decision about what to do, about what comes next. I don’t want to be charged with these decisions; there are children involved, and doing something other than everything else I have already tried means tearing their world (and mine) apart at the seams. What I want is for all of this to go away.

He is speaking now, but my mind cannot process fast enough what my soul already knows. Everything I had construed to be real and true and solid falls away. Yet, in the midst of this, there is absurd relief in knowing that I was led astray by his concoction of mistruths, intentional omissions and unscrupulous deflections, and that I am in fact not crazy or insane; there is absurd relief in not having to participate any longer in this sham of falsehoods and fiction this so-called marriage has become; and there is absurd relief in the fierceness of the fury I feel at having been sucked into this deception and run around in circles like a horse on a tether. I beg for just the smallest of excuses to unleash this smoldering Me-ness that would burn holes through my pages.

And realize, Here I am. I’ve come home.

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)
If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)

This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 

– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)

 

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Haven Spring Blog Series – Part 1

Haven Spring Blog Series

Patricia Young - A Scene

Writing may have brought me to Haven, but I wasn’t a writer until I left.

When people ask how long I’ve been writing, it makes me smile because, to be honest, I can’t remember when writing wasn’t a part of my life. From little diaries with tiny locks and keys to copying lyrics from songs to sing alone. Nature journaling, short stories to poetry. It never occurred to me that writing would become something more than a personal place of comfort, musing, or heartache about the boy in school who never looked at me, but I loved him nonetheless.

There were comments from teachers who saw that there was more in the weaving of my words then a homework assignment. But I never felt worthy to even consider revealing my work to the public or undertake writing a book. Seriously? A book? You must be kidding.

It wasn’t until a lonely night in 2013 that the realization of the trouble we were in held me tight, that I automatically turned to writing for help, guidance or a pearl of wisdom. My husband and I had lost our jobs within three months of one another. Our bank lost paperwork, had us re-do documents more than a half dozen times as we desperately fought to keep our home. Numb hope sat beside me as I aimless searched for remedies on the Internet. From stretching a dime to preparing recipes that would stretch the groceries.

When I look back, I’m not sure what I entered that brought up Haven. My now favorite photo of Laura, wrapped in a shawl leaning on a door frame, a silent welcoming to come inside gently written in her smile. She spoke of being a seeker. Well that was exactly what I was at that moment. I didn’t take time to read the entire page but sent a message and explained, in a nutshell, that I wasn’t asking for a handout. But things were pretty bleak right now, and a direction, a beacon, a pearl of wisdom would be very much appreciated. Who was I kidding? There was little chance of a response, but I pressed send, closed my laptop and went to bed to stare at the ceiling until morning.

The next day I logged on to find a letter from Laura. Not once did she ask for anything, not to buy her book or purchase tea grown in Montana to promote proper grammar, she just connected. She had actually read my thoughts, and the pearl she gave me has become a mantra. Do the work. If you want something if you have a goal if you are in darkness and need to find the light. Do the work it takes to get there.

Two months later I was at the Walking Lightly Ranch. I had never traveled that far alone before. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. It was also the day a deluge of rain took aim at the US Open literally flooding the streets at LaGuardia! Flights were canceled, and the airport was packed with soggy passengers. My morning flight did not board until midnight. I was diverted to Minneapolis and spent the night in a luxury hotel on Delta’s dime. It was a glorious, a sign, if not an exhausting way to start an adventure.

Once home I started my monthly blog Touched By Words. It is my tiny platform. My work was published in local magazines. But it was not until the following year I attempted NaNoWriMo. That is where my book was born. From that point on, I took the bones of my manuscript and built a novel. There were workshops, DVDs, writing circles, courses at the Writing Institute, connections with other writers, authors, and editors. There were some awful, terrible experiences, there were more wonderful, positive ones as I began to really understand the craft of writing. The process of writing. The art of writing.

Now, several years, many drafts, along with a multitude of people who support and encourage me. I finished my first novel. Publication requriers a completely different set of rules and skill set. Developing the query letter was harder for me than writing fifteen chapters. There are many, many people for a fee who will promise you they can help you write. And some can, but then they are silent when it comes to promising you publication. You are on your own. You have no choice but to do the work.

As for me, I have a burn now to take the traditional path and see it through. If it doesn’t happen, I’ve lost nothing but gained knowledge. Either way that is something to celebrate. Which will be another scene I will write about.

Rebecca Deslauriers - Writing as Living

I was suddenly panic stricken, my breath shallow, hands sweating as I stood in line to check out of the Bellagio Hotel where my corporation had just completed its annual meeting. Too much pressure, too many deadlines, the anvil was waiting to fall and my immediate thought was, escape.

I truly do not recall the flight home, or the ride from the airport to my front door. It’s as though that day was dragging me to the depths of an ugly place and I had a choice to climb out of the sink hole or be swallowed, never to return to be the wife, mother, friend I had been.

Months passed from that fateful day, the brink of my demise. As the anxiety and depression began to lift, I felt a new fear. Who am I now? I’m not a corporate physician/hospital administrator, I can’t go back to working in the clinical setting either. What will I do? How do I define myself now? Questions whirred in my brain for weeks.

The month was July, a beautifully new ordinary one. No time commitments, meetings, emails or being on call at the whim of my CEO. My corporate slave days were blessedly behind me. My husband and I wrote a new set of daily rules. First was to make time for myself, which I gratefully did everyday by sleeping in, often sitting outside to enjoy my coffee, read or putter in the yard. I allowed myself to go to lunch with friends, happily enjoying the freeness to nap or ride my bike. The stress had taken a hike. Emptying my soul and ravaged mind was like taking out the garbage and filling the body-can with only goodness and joy.  Those experiences filled my tank, however my gut felt empty. I didn’t miss the cloak of anxiety on my back, but I missed using my brain. What could I do? Find a new career, take a language course, volunteer at the local food bank? Yes, I tried a brief foray into improving my French and spent time helping my church fill boxes for needy children. I couldn’t put my finger on the missing puzzle piece.

July 5th, I decided I would finally clean out my home office. Opening the door, taking a breath, I walked in and began to box the endless papers and pamphlets that were strewn across the weathered white desk that sat below the photos of turtles in the South Pacific, swimming in the clear blue water. Those pictures were my daydream visuals knowing I would someday spend time snorkeling aside these amazing creatures.  Glancing to the right of my desk top computer sat my long dormant lap top. It drew me to its dusty sliver top as if an unseen hand took my arm moving it like a marionette. I blew off the dust, plugged it in to charge, completed a brief cleaning and walked out to the living room to the oversized Pottery Barn chair, threw on the blanket for the pups and plopped down with the lap top. I opened the lid, pulled up a blank page and began to write. I had written multiple papers for my education but this was different, this was heart pouring words, spilling like a cascading waterfall onto the pages. Words of grief, joy, hate and revenge. They flew across my fingers as fast as I could type. Words that were feelings, desires, needing to tell a story, a dark story but I frantically wrote for hours. I didn’t stop from that moment, except to eat, shower and perform the essentials. It became a compulsion to finish my story. So I wrote for several months and finished the book. I was elated, relieved, nervous and felt like I had discovered a newly flavored candy.  This was it, my gut relaxed and I realized I am new someone, a writer.

That initial burning need to write has never left me over these last four years. I have a hope, a relief valve, all within myself that I can release and let fly. If my words are never shared then so be it, but my purpose is filled, there is life after a career in medicine and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Come to Montana and see why Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops is ranked in the best writing programs  in the US by The Writer magazine, and by Open Road media…and has changed over 700 people’s lives…
You don’t have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker who loves the written word, and who finally wants to find your unique voice!
*special spring discounts…
June 12-16 (two more spots)
June 26-30 (one more spot)
Now booking the September Haven Writing Retreats–  A gorgeous time to be in Montana!)
September 18-22
September 25-29
With love,
Laura and the Haven Alums

If you are on the fence…read these lovely testimonials from recent

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Laura’s gifts are many. She has a way of pulling the story from the writer. She begins with a warming of the hive and by the end of Haven, she has drawn each person’s sweet honey out for all to taste! All good things come to those who wait. It took me years of watching Laura’s Haven retreats from a distance to get to a yes for myself. Thank God I got to a yes!  This was by far the best money I have ever spent on a workshop for my career and I’m deeply grateful. The writing instruction was epic and I left with a renewed love for the craft of writing. The thing that surprised me was the high level of skill Laura has as a facilitator for both the individual and the group. I have been facilitating groups for years and it is something that takes often hard earned skill, insight, passion and a touch of magic. Laura has an abundance of each and made a full-day, learning- packed workshop truly feel like a retreat! Brava Laura! 10,000 Thank you’s for sending me home better at everything I do, especially writing!
I can’t wait to come back for Haven II!”
–Kathleen, San Luis Obispo, CA  (Occupational Therapist)
If you are reading this testimonial, you were like I was: desperately searching for evidence that I should or shouldn’t go, trying to decide if I was or wasn’t a writer. If you are that person in that place, I would like to speak directly to you: go to Haven. If you have found Haven, if you have found this page, life is giving you a gift.  It is up to you to take it. Haven changed my life and my writing in all of the ways it needed to change. Laura is brilliant in a way that is difficult to put into words, but she has a superpower: she helps you shed all of the writers that you are not, and helps you leap into the beautiful writer that you are. If you aren’t sure of your voice, Laura will help you find it, and BELIEVE in it. She’s the writing fairy-godmother that I always wanted and now have. Get there. Jump the hurdles, bypass the doubt, walk through the fear, and get there.”
— Amy, Missoula, MT (Singer-songwriter)
 
This is the power of Haven: For one year, I hadn’t written a word. Not a one. I was stuck in a place in my manuscript, couldn’t figure my way out, and signed up for Haven in a last ditch effort to find the problem before I threw out the whole thing. But on Day 3 of Haven, after working one on one with Laura, I went out into the Montana wilderness with my computer and typed out 600 new words that unlocked the problem in my book. I’ve been back home for four days now, and am 10,000 words into a new draft with no sign of slowing down.” 
– Brooke, Vancouver, BC  (Speaker. Writer. Coach. Chef.)
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The “Me Time” Medal: a week of wellness

IMG_3782

What does it take, I wonder, to just…stop?  To stop the madness of pushing buttons and swiping, clicking, scrolling from one screen to the next, taking trains, planes, and automobiles here and there and everywhere, booking that appointment up against the one before it and the one after it…instead of taking that hour to…eat?  Take a walk?  Stretch?  Or not do anything at all except…breathe?

I never thought of myself as a multi-tasker.  I left the rat race before I ever fully joined it.  I moved to a place that people yearn for, but only after they’ve lived in the “real world,” building careers and relationships and families in cities and suburbs– the Montana prize at the end of it, not the beginning of it.  Still, my kids make fun of me now during our Facetime calls.  “Let me guess, Mom.  You’re doing twenty-five thousand things at once.”

“Me?  No.  I am not.  I’m just…you know…running my business.  And writing two books.  And getting ready for my next retreat.  And paying my bills.  And booking my ticket for the Morocco Haven writing retreat.  And finding an Air B&B in Marrakech.  And researching the best and cheapest snow blower because I’m not going through another Montana winter without a snow blower.  And…”

They roll their eyes and laugh at me from my laptop on the kitchen counter, so it’s almost like they’re here again, doing the same thing.

“Huh.  Am I really that person?”

“Uh…what do you think?” my daughter says.

“You’re a chronic multi-tasker, Mom.  Admit it,” my son says.  “And it’s getting worse.”

“We’re worried about you,” she adds.

“Oh don’t be worried about me!  I love my work.  I love all of it.  And now that you’ve all fledged the nest, I’m told that there’s this thing called Me Time.  I think I could get used to that idea.  Oh, and don’t let me forget– I made Bolognese sauce and froze it last night.  For Christmas.  Oh, and I need to book your flights.”

“Mom.  We’re old enough to book our own flights.  And are you really taking care of yourself?  I mean, are you sick?  You sound sick.”

“Oh, it’s just a little cold.”  I’ve been holding it back, but I let out a bone rattling hack.  “Sorry.  What were you saying?  Oh yeah.  Flights.  Well, I’ll pay for them.  I’ll give you my credit card.”

“That cough sounds nasty.  You need to take a day off.  Have you even eaten today?”

“I had a smoothie this morning.”  The tides have turned, I guess.  I tell them that I’m fine.  I’m just run down.  I’ve just finished a seven week work marathon, leading four five day retreats and traveling to Minneapolis to do events, and I have a cold.  “My energy level is fine.  It sounds worse than it is.”

I.       Am.         Lying.

IMG_3782

The truth is, I’m sick as a dog.  I got back from my last business trip, and hit the wall.  I’ve been lying in bed for three days with a roll of toilet paper, (ran out of Kleenex), various and random tinctures and likely-expired remedies (my eyes are too goopy to see the fine print), Mason jars of water and Emergen-C, Tiger Balm, and something called Gypsy Cream that my friend made and which my raw nose really likes.  My eyes ache so I can’t effectively look at my computer.  I’m too tired to drive into town for supplies.  I haven’t been this flat-out ill in years.  It reminds me of being sick as a child—all set up in my parents’ bed watching The Price is Right and All My Children and General HospitalOnly there are no parents to take care of me now.

I make that thought go away and try to think light, un-pathetic things, like:  Do people even watch soap operas and game shows these days?

In the last three days, I’ve tried to find out—to make myself succumb to brain mush.  To let this cold be a gift of…Me Time.

I last about three minutes.  All those commercials with the women in creased khakis and pressed linen button-downs, happily scouring their white bathroom floors with one errant strand of hair fallen across their line-less foreheads.  Bleck.  Those women don’t exist and if any woman on earth thinks they do…they are in for abject and relentless PAIN when they wake up from the dream.

I turn the TV off so quickly, so allergically, that I wonder:  Was I in some sort of a motherhood dream?  Have I suddenly woken up, now that the last child is gone?  Because I’m in a lot of pain, and not just in my lungs.  It’s in my heart.  Not the one that beats.  The one that wants it all back, just for one day.  Those little babies climbing all over me so that there’s no time to do anything other than just blissfully be with them.  The ones who are telling me now that I’m a serial multi-tasker.  The ones who are worried about me.

IMG_3782I stare at the snow.  I really can’t let that snow stack up.  And I really need to get those airplane tickets.  And I have three business calls that I really need to take this afternoon.  I’ll just push Mute when I have to cough.  How hard is it to take calls in bed?  They won’t know, anyway.  They’ll think I’m in some sort of writerly Montana She Shack.  With distressed barn wood and black and white photos of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin.  Instead of balled-up toilet paper all around me, and pillows which have lost their cases in the mayhem of all this tossing and turning and coughing and blowing.  And self-pity.

But this cold won’t let me lie to myself.  It only lets me lie in bed.  Just like my children have prescribed.

When I have the energy to move, I make bone broth and tea and slog up to bed again.  I’ve lost my sense of taste.  Even my lover, Earl Grey, tastes like mucus.  Everything tastes like mucus.  My head feels like it weighs twenty pounds.  I should probably cave and take cold medicine, which I hate.  But I don’t even have cold medicine in the house.  I’ve always told my kids that we should feel our symptoms so that we are true to them.  “We need to honor our bodies, not pretend we’re fine, when we’re not.”  When did I become such a hypocrite?  Was it the minute I dropped my second child off at college and came home to Empty Nest?

My kids text me later.  “You okay?”

This is new.

“I’m fine,” I repeat.  “I’m about to take a nap.”

Which I don’t.  Instead I stare at the snow melting on the roof, trying to think Me Time Empty Nest thoughts:  I need to search ebay for a cheap snow blower.  Does that count?IMG_3782

And then, in the way back of my mucus-y mind, in my grandmother’s southern drawl, I hear:  “Dear.  I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.  She needs to take a rest.”  I remember thinking as a child that, based on the sternness in my grandmother’s brow, we had a real problem on our hands:  that my mother might even die from hard work.  That maybe there was no medal at the end of all her achievements, even though it seemed like she was going after one.  She always seemed like she was medal-worthy to me.  But my grandmother’s worry felt more important than any work—even change-the-world work.

My God.  Are they worried about me the way I was worried about my mother?  Am I passing the baton to my kids and are they insisting that this incessant hard-work-to-the-point-of-self-violence gene needs to end?

Because, just like her, I’m always throat-high in a project.  Or three.  Or yes, maybe even twenty-five thousand.  Always more blue blocks on my Google calendar than white ones.  I heard Joan Rivers say on a talk show once something to the tune of, “When I have an empty calendar, I’ll know my life is over.”  Am I like that? I wonder, watching the gutters do their job.  Frankly, they look tired too.

I don’t think of myself as a workaholic.  I mean, I live in Montana.  I work in my pajamas a lot of the time– don’t even own a business suit.  I drive a totaled truck and stop it often, on the side of the road, to take in the unabashed beauty of big sky country.  I spent years playing with my kids on the floor, reading with them and singing with them and snuggling with them.  Yes, I worked out of the home, but I was always just a few steps away if they needed me, and once they went to school, I worked on my career, yes, but I never missed a recital or a school program, and hardly missed a game.  I was that mom.

IMG_3782But now that they’re gone…have I put the pedal to the floor instead of allowing myself to be in neutral for a while?  And…if I’m being brutally honest…do I really want to get to know myself again, outside of my motherhood and my work?  And while I’m at it…since I can no longer bury myself in my motherhood, have I now buried myself in work so that I don’t have to be in this thing called Empty Nest, the memories lurking in every surface of this home?  Most of them so joyous.  Some of them, so not.  Am I going to be a total disaster at Me Time?

What would it take for me to actually…enjoy this Empty Nest?  This Me Time.  People tell me that it’s time to be selfish.  I have a friend who said, just before my son left for college, “I’m going to check on you every week and see if you’re doing something just for you.  Something new and different, to get to know yourself outside of your motherhood and your career.”

“I’m planning on having more time to write and publish books.  And travel.”

“I don’t mean writing.  Or traveling.  I mean at home.  Something you haven’t tried before, right where you live.”

“Like what?” I asked her, truly blank.

She smiled.  “Like…tango lessons.  Like…fly-fishing.  Something just for you.”

Huh.

“I take a bath every night.  Does that count?  I can’t get enough of Modern Family and Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace) re-runs.  There are stacks of books on my bedside table.  Which I read hungrily.  I write every morning.  These are all ways of taking care of myself.  Aren’t they?”

“Mmmmm.  You need to do something…new.”  She knows.  She believed in newness so much that she left her job in Chicago and moved, solo, to Montana.  I’ve never seen her so happy.

IMG_3782Lying here, blowing my nose and feeling so inert, so unproductive and blob-ish– I wonder if I thought that there would be a medal at the end of motherhood.  Like graduation.  Like people would stand up for you and clap and give you a fancy scroll that you can frame and hang on the wall to prove your hard work.  And I wonder, since that doesn’t exist, if I have just succeeded in transferring all of that gumption, all of those hours that I’m no longer parenting day to day, into my career.  Sure looks like it, I think, staring at the snow melting.  And it also sure looks like my body’s not having it.  At all.

So I give in and just allow the last seven weeks to flicker by like a home movie on the snowy roof:  I dropped my son off at college, came back, and two days later began my work marathon.  I worked intimately with over fifty women in my five day and one day retreats and workshops.  I gave them everything I possibly could give.  I loved it like I loved…well, my motherhood.  I always do.

But in planning my fall schedule last year, I must have been absolutely terrified of Empty Nest because from September to December, there were pretty much only blue blocks on my Google calendar.  No white ones– not after 6:00 am or before 8:00 pm.  And no green ones at all– the places where my motherhood used to live.  I colored everything blue with Work.  I don’t remember doing it.  But I must have looked at those white spaces and gone Marsha Brady, filling it all in to the brim.  Never a moment to stop.

And now…surprise:  I’m sick.  It’s such a beautiful sunny snow day.  I could be out playing in it instead of lying here feeling miserable.

I breathe in and let out a long emphysema-sounding sigh.  What if I use this illness to practice on?  What if, just for this week, I cleared those blue blocks to white space, and didn’t fill them with anything?  I mean really…nothing.  Not even the Food Network.  Or Netflix.  Or even a bath.  My retreat season is over.  All of the blue blocks are things that can wait, at least a week.  What if I allowed myself to just lie here and watch the snow melting off the roof and felt my infected lungs rising and falling and let myself feel grateful for each breath that doesn’t erupt in a hack.

For one solid week…what if I didn’t write anything or read anything or do anything or try to be anything, outside of well?  What if this white-spaced nothing…is the medal?  The Me Time Medal.  What did Winnie the Pooh say?  “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”  And then, after I’m over this cold…what if I kept it going—this commitment to the white blocks of nothing?  Sure, there’ll be blue blocks.  I like it that way and my bank account requires it too.  But what if I learned to value the white just as much?

IMG_3782I ask us all, because I’ll just bet that you can relate:  Do we have to get sick to stop?  Or can we just stop for no reason other than:  we know we need to.  We know it’s good for us.  We want to be good to ourselves.  And if we are…maybe the “medal” is wellness.  Happiness.  Peace.  We can at least try.

So for just this moment: 

Just…let your chest rise and fall. 

Feel your heart beating. 

Let your heavy head fall back. 

You don’t have to hold it up right now. 

Something can hold you.

I’ll try it too.  Today, all day, right after I do this writing thing that I know is good for me, but that I also know is still a way of doing not being…I’m going to let my head fall into pillows, close my eyes.  Breathe.  Be.  And let my body heal.

Maybe tango lessons next week.  Who knows.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2019!  (special holiday discounts!!!!)

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

March 20-24
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Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

***Haven Wander:  Morocco is full.

 

 

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Ask Your Mother

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Well it’s Mother’s Day. I am ever aware of how grateful I am for mine, and for the honor of being a mother too.  Not everyone feels so great on this day.  I have a hard time on Father’s Day.  But for all of you, no matter what…there are people you love, who are older than you, and who have inspired you.  Here’s a list of questions that bring out a lot in those people.  We are honored to have the answers of my mother, and two mothers of Haven Writing Retreat alums HERE!  Pour a cup of tea on this fine morning, read, enjoy, and learn.  It’s all about the questions, after all.  (list of questions at the end)

Love,

Laura

Questions to Ask Your Mother:

Virgina 

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

My whole life I’ve felt secure.  I’ve been very lucky.  Not everybody has had wonderful parents, and two wonderful marriages.

2)    What excites you?

I like the feeling of performing and meeting people’s expectations, whether it was my mother, or my teachers.

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

I was twelve and it was my birthday, and my mother and father gave me a watch and a hay ride for my birthday party, and that stands out as one of my most favorite days. In Glenview, IL.  A gold watch—with a little black band—made out of a twisted woven sort of material.  A HAY RIDE IS SUCH FUN!  AND IT WAS A SURPRISE!  That was 74 years ago!

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

I have a genealogical question I would ask them:  Who was Seth Aldrich’s father? (Spencer, MA—married Mary Knight (Holly), married in 1804, and had Jefferson, who had William Elliot, who had Hilan Duane, who had Jefferson Elliot, who had me.

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

You should sweat the small stuff.  I’m a perfectionist.  And I haven’t changed what I want to be perfect in my life.

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

Nothing.

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

shistervonboodlebottom

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

You want someone you can trust, who is loyal, who loves you, and has your best interests at heart, and who would never want to hurt you, and who cares deeply about you.  And there are not many people like that.  You’re lucky if you have three friends in your life, who you would do anything for and they’d do anything for you and you’d stop your life for them.  They remember my anniversary, and details, and they care.

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

Someone who has a belief in God, and who you can trust.

10) What is your advice on marriage?

Marry someone that you can trust.  Who you know adores you and you adore them.  Who you would do anything for and they would do anything for you.  And they would make the effort to make sure it lasts forever, and would never do anything to hurt you.  Someone you admire and respect.  You have to give all of yourself—you marry someone for better for worse, and you don’t give up.

11) What is your advice on aging?

Try and take care of yourself, exercise, be more flexible, because things don’t go the way you wished as you age.

12) When in your life have you been most happy?

Being married to your father.  I loved when he walked through the door.  I adored your father.  Just to see him and be with him, knowing he loved me, and he’d change his clothes and take the kids, and have dinner, and go outside and garden.  I could count on him.  I could trust him.  He would take care of those topiary trees.  He was always working to make sure that things were just perfect.  All of our friends hired gardeners and we never did.

13) What is the value of school?

To learn all that you can to help you in life later on.  Two examples:

In 7th grade, Miss Lawrence who was very demanding, and was my English teacher.  I felt challenged and supported by her.

There was a woman at Bennett name Miss Cody, and also expected you to do the best you could do.  She scared the hell out of me.  I wanted to do what she wanted me to do.

14) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing all that I have to do.  I’m a day person.  My friends say that I do five times what they do in a day, so I have to get up early to accomplish it all.

15) What is your advice to parents:

Make sure that as parents, you are honest with each other and in good communication.  And are a united force.

16) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

Be as wise as you can be about how you spend your money, but knowing that you’re not going to live forever, you might as well do what you want and travel.  I try not to order the most expensive thing on the menu.  Know how much money you have.  You don’t want to be in debt.  We were never trust fund children, so we had to borrow money.  That’s why I started my business so I could make extra money to support us. I might not have started my business if I had more money.

17) What are three places I must see on this planet?

Israel—knowing that Jesus was there

Thailand—so exotic

Africa—looking at all the animals free and in the wild

Nepal—rode elephants to look for tigers

Loved going to Norway and all the Fjords

Alaska—islands

India was too dirty.  Liked Agra.

18) What are some words to live by?

Be honest.  Do your best.  Be all that you can be.  Be kind to others.

19) What makes me special?

You’re able to support your family, be everything for your family, and you work so hard and you are amazing and I don’t know anyone who can do all that you do.  I don’t know when you sleep.

20) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

To be somebody who people respect, and to have done the best job you knew how to do.  Your father used to say that on my gravestone it should read, “At least she tried.”

21) What are your hopes for this planet?

That we never have war.  That we have peace.  That people will love each other.  And we can be environmentally safe.

22) What would you like your legacy to be?

To have people remember me with love.  And that I was the keeper of memories.  I had a different color photo album for each child.  I didn’t put your photos in a shoebox.  I tried!

23) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

I hope I’m worthy to be here.

Haven Writing Retreat Alum, Kim Smith’s mother:  Madalenne 

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1) What would you like your descendants to know about you?
That I was loving, kind, and generous. Unless you’re giving me bad service – then I’m a bit of a pill. But, otherwise, loving, kind, and generous.
2) What excites you?
Projects and challenges! Keeping busy and staying productive is so important - there’s really no age at which that doesn’t hold true. I’m currently the volunteer librarian at a local Catholic high school, and am thoroughly enjoying putting their library and their textbook dispensary in order. The Dewey Decimal System is a thing of beauty!
3) What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?
The first time I became a mother is the closest thing to a perfect day in my life that I can recall.
4) If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?
“Can you please tell me the details of your family history?”
5) When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?
Someone else’s idiosyncrasies! Remember that you, too, have idiosyncrasies, and that you cannot change someone else’s behavior – it’s a waste of precious energy to try. So, as the young folks say “Just chill!”
6) What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?
Trying to change someone else’s idiosyncrasies!
7) What is your favorite swear word?
While I may, or may not, have used the colloquial word for bull feces once or twice in my life, my “go-to” expletive is “numb nuts!”
8) What should I look for in a friend?
The best friends possess a magical combination of kindness, loyalty, intelligence, and good humor. When you find them, do all you can to cherish them and keep them close. They, along with your children, are life’s great treasures.
9) What should people look for in a partner?
Love. Generosity. Fidelity. Shared interests and goals. A sense of humor.
10) What is your advice on aging?
Keep your sense of humor (are you sensing a theme?!). Stay busy. Stay loving and caring, and focus, as best you can, on your blessings, and not your burdens. Choose happiness.
11) When in your life have you been most happy?
Having lived a life rich with happiness – in both small moments of quiet joy and of overwhelming bliss – I cannot isolate any particular time or year, and call it my happiest. Having said that, the years we spent on Chicago’s North Shore, raising our children, being involved in rugby (and so many other things), and making lifelong friends, was a very special time for me.
12) What is the value of school?
The value of education is incalculable. If you aim to be a happy and productive human, capable of enriching the lives of others, get thee to school! The best education inculcates not only knowledge, but also character, compassion, and integrity. And NEVER stop learning. Never, never, never.
13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Prayers, projects, and challenges. Also, cortisone shots and a not-insignificant amount of Motrin.
14) What is your advice to parents?
Demonstrate, every day in every way possible, the following qualities: love, positive communication, thoughtfulness, compassion, patience. Be kind and respectful to everyone you come in contact with, and there is a far greater chance that your children will grow up to be kind and accepting as well. Remember…they are always watching you, always listening to you. Show them the kind of person you’d hope them to be.
15) What is your advice on money? Save it or spend it or a little of both?
Are you joking?! I am the last person anyone should seek financial advice from.
16) What are three places I must see on this planet?
Oxford, Florence, St. Petersburg.
17) What are some words to live by?
“Nothing is worth more than this day.”
18) What makes me special?
The inner beauty you have always possessed. Your kindness and thoughtfulness. Your intuitive understanding of family, friends, and associates, that enriches them all.
19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?
Humor. Activity. Acceptance. Serenity!
20) What are your hopes for this planet?
The return of the Messiah. This is what I devoutly wish for this troubled, wonderful, singular planet of ours.
21) What would you like your legacy to be?
My legacy is a living one…the jewels in my crown, my extraordinary children, Kim, Paige, and Richard, who have already made this world, and the many lives they’ve touched, a better place.
22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?
At Last!
Haven Writing Retreat Alum Cathy Kenworthy’s mother-in-law, Lucille

1.  I would like my descendants to know I love them more than anything in the world.
2.  What excites me – A good Symphony or Opera
3.  One Mother’s Day with my Mother and three children in a little mountain town. And my 75th Birthday in NY.
4.  If I could ask my mother or father one question what would that be? Do you wish you had had more than two children?
5.  Don’t sweat what you cannot change.lucille_in_maine
6.  In hindsight I would not be jealous – ever.
7   My favorite swear word is s___.   Sorry about that.
8.  In a friend I demand loyalty.
9.  In a partner – same thing but unconditional love.
10.  On aging – enjoy the benefits, forget the tribulations.
11.  I was most happy when my three children were in their teens.
12.  I don’t know what I would do without school.  I enjoy learning.
13.  Time of the day gets me out of bed in the morning.
14   Advice to parents – Know what is going on with your children and care about it.
15.  Advice on money – spend it!
16.  Two of the places I must see on this planet I have already seen – Italy, Great Britain. Would like Galapagos.
17.  Words to live by – Golden Rule.
18.  What makes you special:  There are many things– you are exceptional.  Bright, beautiful, caring.
19   At my age – don’t change what you are striving for – same as what you are striving for now.
20.  My hopes for this planet – environmentally in much better shape than it is now.
21.  What I like my legacy to be – a happy family.
22.  When I get to the Pearly Gates I will say I am so glad to have made it there – instead of the other place.

THE QUESTIONS.  Call your mother today if you can.  Ask her some of these questions.  Cherish the moment.  Keep the answers.  And if your mother isn’t available, ask someone else’s mother, or mother-in-law, or your father, or an elder in your world.  It’s a gift to them too.

1)    What would you like your descendants to know about you?

2)    What excites you?

3)    What is your idea of a perfect day, from any time in your life?

4)    If you could ask your mother or father one question, what would it be?

5)    When they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” what specific small stuff should I not sweat?

6)    What are some things you spent a lot of time on in your life that in hind-sight weren’t worth it?

7)    What is your favorite swear word?

8)    What should I look for in a friend?

9)    What should people look for in a partner?

10) What is your advice on aging?

11) When in your life have you been most happy?

12) What is the value of school?

13) What gets you out of bed in the morning?

14) What is your advice to parents?

15) What is your advice on money?  Save it or spend it or a little of both?

16) What are three places I must see on this planet?

17) What are some words to live by?

18) What makes me special?

19) When I am your age, what should I strive for?

20) What are your hopes for this planet?

21) What would you like your legacy to be?

22) When you get to the Pearly Gates, what will you say to God?

Now booking our fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana!

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (still room)

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