Tag Archives: work

The Year My Mother Hit the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Saint Laundry

A few things have gone amuk around here and with two working parents and no extra help save for what two kids can do on top of school work and sports and music…we’ve decided to let some things go. Laundry is one of them. I quit doing socks a long time ago. I have a box and in they go. If people want matching socks, they can look at it like a treasure hunt.

Areas of high bacterial grossness are higher upon my list of priorities, and so, the toilet and circumference tend to get my two bit attention more than what mounds and heaves and pitches and throbs in the room everybody should make sure they have if given the opportunity, and that’s an upstairs laundry room. I would give up a bathroom to have an upstairs laundry room. I’d go all outhouse like my friends do who live off the grid. At least then I wouldn’t have to clean toilets and their circumference! We tend to go until the door doesn’t close any longer, and there is no dilineation between what is dirty and what awaits folding. This is what has accumulated: Mount Saint Laundry.

Today I tackled it. In full assault gear. I put it all on my bed and turned on The View and pretended it was like Christmas. Which one to wrap next? All little gifties for my hubbie and kids. That state of mind lasted about as long as it took for me to think, “Oh, I should blog about this.” So I sit here avoiding the pile, writing this to all of you out there with such a mountain. I have no solutions. Only empathy. And lo…in the upstairs choir I hear a chime. It’s so perky, this chime. It’s telling me that there’s more laundry to fold, warm and clean. And I realize that the Maytag man really is a wise guy, because it literally goes to the syllables of this:

Yooo get-to-fold…the laundreeee!

OK– here I go. Godspeed to us all. If I get lost in it, tell them it was a good life. And that they have to put it away!

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Household Rant

I know I am not alone in this: there are things that drive me crazy about the current state of my house. Things that make me so internally berserk that I have stuffed them deep into my toe joints just to make a pass through my house tolerable. Okay, maybe I like to pretend that I’ve actually let them go, but that would be a minor fib. Because, I mean SHIT O. Deer does it piss me off that my garden is still not put to bed and it’s the first week of November. And the hot tub– it’s like the most important room in our house (a family full of back injuries, afterall), it’s been broken for a year and a half, all for a simple, inexpensive, repair job which requires a board being unscrewed…and there it sits. There’s probably a dead racoon floating in it for all I know. But for some reason, that board goes unscrewed, and I’m damn handy with a Makita. What’s my problem??? Oh, and while I’m at it. Why do I tolerate mouse turds on my kitchen counter every morning? Why do I have a sponge that I designate The Mouse Turd Picker Upper sponge, and not call an exterminator to find the actual nest? Why do I just sometimes remember to set traps? Anyone wanna come over for dinner now? Ugh. And then there’s the mudroom. Are mudrooms actually supposed to be as truly muddy as ours is? Like mud from a few seasons ago? And should they contain a cat bed for a cat who disappeared uh– last spring? Again, it’s Novemeber. The cat is coyote food. Throw away his bed. You’re allergic to it anyway. Get rid of it. Sylvester Putty Tat be dead. Deep sigh. It’s giving me a near coronary episode just writing this, but there’s a point and I’m getting to it. Just hang on a second. Also, my office is a mess. There are paper piles all over it. Business receipts and random notes to myself that I can’t decipher but they say PRIORITY and Amazon boxes full of old photos that need homes in lovingly put together photo albums and and and. Isn’t there something called OFFICE MAX? And isn’t there one 15 miles from my very office, where I sit, ranting, sucking the oxygen from the universe with socks that don’t match and an inside out bathrobe? Considering pouring wine into my tea mug at eleven am because not only do I have no idea where my newest working copy of my novel is at the moment, but my computer is telling me that it may have a tropical viral infection, and my microwave is making a sound so weird that I’m pretty sure it’s going to burn a hole through my brain the next time I push Start, and there’s a pack rat living on my front porch, AGAIN (little untrappable fuckers), and I’m afraid to look under my bed, but there’s a certain smell and I’m pretty sure it involves food and a kid and a slumber party that occured when I was on the road promoting my book. That’s what I’m getting to: this house needs a mommy. Six months of being on and off but pretty much on the road is not working. I need to stay put. Welcome summer– oh shit– that’s right, it’s actually winter that’s upon us. How did I lose a season or two?

DEEEEEEEEEP Breath. Do you ever feel like this? Please tell me I’m not alone.

I need to put the garden to bed. That’s where I need to start. I need to write down the top three things that are driving me crazy and check them off. I need to stop passing by them and being overwhelmed. I need to look at them piece meal. Call the exterminator. Easy enough. Find my gardening shears and go out there and spend an hour. Maybe I won’t get the whole thing done, but I can do half, right? Half would be okay, yes? Feel me? What is driving you crazy about your house? Is it easy enough to fix? What won’t cost you a dime but will gain you sanity? Maybe start with a load of laundry. Not the whole Mount Saint Laundry. Just socks. Or maybe don’t do socks. Just find a box and throw the socks in it and grab a Sharpy and write: Sock Box. That’s what I’m talking about. Getting shit done. Solutions. We’ll see how it goes around here, but this girl has a weekend in front of her, and it’s gonna be all about un-driving myself crazy. The end.

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Dreaming Big.

A few years ago, there was a major threat to the open space around our town. It inspired me to get involved in a way I hadn’t before. People realized that the wandering rights we’d all enjoyed for so long– a vital part of why we live where we live, were not to be taken lightly. We had to get creative and we had to do it fast. I learned about a group which had a crazy little idea to build a forty mile trail connecting private and public land in our valley. They needed people to apply for positions on a steering committee and I decided to give it a whirl. I wrote the below piece as part of my application and was honored to serve on that board in the project’s genesis. People said it would never happen. Well it has. I am proud of all the people who have come together to be stewards of our wandering rights. Introducing The Whitefish Trail. May you dream big wherever you live.

Wandering Rights. October, 2005

I rode my horse along the highway the other day to see what it might be like if the 13,000 acres of State Land gets sold off to developers and our open lands become gated communities. I have lived in Whitefish, Montana for twelve years and I finally know my State Lands—where I ride my horse, my mountain bike, take walks, introduce the difference between pine trees and fir trees to my children. It’s in the State Lands that I run into friends walking their dogs and stop for a chat under the fall dapple of aspen shadows on the forest floor. This is our green belt. Our link to who has come before us and considered it sacred. This is where we wander. Get lost. Let a trail lead us to an unexpected way home.

I rode my horse on the side of the highway for six miles just to see what it would be like to let the cement and flung beer bottles, road kill and hidden culverts be my guides. Our valley is wide. The shoulder was small. Logging trucks careened down on us and sent frayed pieces of bark in our faces. My horse was brave; I only felt him shudder. But that’s because I have been training him for this, setting down crushed Coke cans and plastic bags in his paddock and leading him over them for months now, to get him ready, just in case.

My father used to come to Whitefish in the 40’s before it was a ski town. He was in the railroad business and he’d come to sell bolsters and brake beams to the then Great Northern. He’d take customers out for a beer at the Hanging Tree Saloon and listen to locals complain about the threat of a ski resort. Scarring the mountain with ski runs, building chair lifts and attracting “city folk.” He was city folk, but he recognized the love of place. When I moved to Whitefish he said, “Be careful. That town doesn’t know what it wants to be.” It sounded good to me since I wasn’t sure I knew what I wanted to be either.

The rural West has been kind to its denizens. Whitefish, specifically, has had some years to figure out the answer to that question. And I think I know what it is: It wants to be home for wanderers of all sorts. It wants to be the sort of place where people run into each other on a trail, or at a bar or at a school parking lot and look around and say, “God, it’s beautiful today.”

So when I was at the local farmer’s market and my friend, a State representative, told me that there is a plan in place to link forty-miles of State Land to private land—mostly in conservation easements—a trail system to last forever—for multi-non-motorized use—I took pause. “What can I do to help? Sign me up.”

A stakeholders group is being formed and I have submitted my application. We need a place to wander—all of us—even the people in the inevitable gated communities. We need links, not gates. And there are people brave enough to understand that it has to be us/us if we are to ever know what it is to be a co-denizen of the rural West.

Still, I walked the highway, just to see. I tried to keep my horse focused on the tall grass straight ahead. We must have crushed fifteen beer bottles, got tangled up in wire twice, tripped over two culverts, and at one point where the barrel ended, I had to get off and lead him down fifty yards of highway up against the guard rail, a three foot margin for error. We just missed a head-on between a Hummer and a fawn. The fawn lost.

People say we’ll be riding on the highway soon if the State Lands sell out. They say we have a twenty-four month window of opportunity to work with the State and private sectors before that happens to secure this forty-mile long trail. I hope Whitefish knows at least this much about what it is. A place for wanderers. If not, I won’t be riding on the road again. I’ll be the one trespassing in the night. Like the deer. And if I am jailed or shot at, I’ll say: I just wanted to wander in the woods. Don’t you?

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Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Daily Tips for Writers

I have been writing these tips daily on Twitter http://twitter.com/Lauramunson Hope they help.

Be intentional. Get to know your “third eye.” And don’t let life infect it. Yes we mine our lives, but writing is a pause.

When people ask what you do, say: I AM A WRITER. Practice saying it in front of the mirror!

Find something physical that requires the same sort of awareness you use in your writing and try to do it every day.

When you are rejected, you haven’t done something wrong. It just wasn’t right for them. Think of it as a numbers game.

Go at it with joy, not fighting and muscling and kicking. Go at it like it’s already there. You’re just lifting the lid.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for you. What MUST you write? You know the answer. Now write it.

Write what you must and write it with compassion.

Don’t let Social Media interrupt your focus. Use it as a tool and be grateful for community. And know when to unplug.

Do something sacred before you begin. A cup of tea. A deep breath. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed. A beginning.

Don’t take rejections personally. Take a breath, and send it out again. GOOD LUCK!

Use your pearls as they come. No need to stockpile them. More will come.

Challenge yourself to be flexible. Write not just on your mother ship computer, but on a laptop, outside, on a legal pad

When in doubt, ask. You have to ask. For connections, advice, help, time, space, critique, support. Ask.

Read books like textbooks, underline, comment in margins, date your comments. Don’t lend them out. Refer to them often.

Don’t take outlines too seriously. Your characters are your guides.  Sherpas, even.  Follow them.

Love your characters. Even the villians.  They all have something to teach you.  But you have to love them into it.

When you give your working drafts to friends to read, make sure you agree to the shape of critique you want and deadline.

If you don’t want to write a scene, maybe it doesn’t belong in your book. Trust your instincts. Be willing to re-route.

If you find you are having a hard time balancing between your writing and social media, consider getting two computers. One cyber. One not.

In the spirit of Twitter, keep it lean. Exile adverbs. They suck the action dry.

 Consider your reader and ask yourself: why do they need my writing? Writing is an act of empathy. It’s not all yours.

 Writing is your meditation, your prayer, your way of life, and sometimes your way TO life.  At least it is for me.

If your loved ones don’t read your stuff, consider it a compliment.They want to know you as they know you.Not always on the page.

I love hearing from writers who love their work.  We need to be hungry for our own work.  Champions.  Stewards.  Even when the publishers don’t agree.  

Clean your office. Clutter bring chaos. A clean space really helps with the blank page.

Be willing to learn something about yourself on the page. It’s okay to “tell” on yourself. It will help people and you.

What is your piece about? Practice saying it outloud on a walk, in 3 minutes or less. It may morph as you go along. That’s OK.

Writing comes from sacredness, silence, and sometimes secrecy. Oftentimes best not to share what you are writing about til it’s done.

I find that writers who are writing are kind to one another. Not competetive. Let’s keep this kindness alive and well.

Hemingway couldn’t write in an airplane and either can I. Best to know your limits as long as they’re not avoidances.

Be leary of writers who spend a lot of time trying to protect their work. It’s only moving through you to begin with.

Be leary of writers who do more reading than writing. Or who are always doing conferences. True seeking is most often solitary.

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts