Tag Archives: writers retreats

Haven Winter Blog Series #9– Announcing Winner!

IMG_0478

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

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALEXIS PUTNAM!

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

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

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

IMG_0522

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

prints***

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

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

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

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

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

I begin to hope.

***Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexis Putnam

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

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



5 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Laura’s Best Winter “Food for the Muse” Recipes: Pasta Bolognese

While I am taking this time of dormancy to write, and enjoying what Haven Writing Retreats alums are saying about creativity here on my blog, I am also cooking up a storm!  It’s the perfect balance to the act of writing because while characters and stories dwell and grow in my mind, with food creation, there is an immediately met trajectory.  I create it:  people eat it.  Complete creative arc!  We will finish the Haven Winter Blog series this week.  I hope you are enjoying these musings on the creative process.  In the meantime…here is one of my very favorite things to create, perfected over many years of trial and error…never before written down.  From my kitchen to yours!  May it fuel your muse! Buon appetito!

Now Booking the Haven Writing Retreats 2016 Schedule

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23
Sunday-Pasta-Tagliatelle-alla-Bolognese-2-640

Bolognese Sauce

(with apologies to the people of Bologna– this is an American woman’s best stab at what you do, and will always do, much better than this lowly lover of your cuisine)

I have learned to make this sauce over the years from the family I lived with in Italy, to Italian friends along the way in Chicago and Montana, and by cooking it over and over and becoming its friend, as with all favorite recipes.  It is my go-to happy meal and my family’s too.  Cook it when you need inspiration, when you feel inspired, when you’re in the dumps, when you want to dance in the kitchen for half the day, when you just…need…to…remember what it is to delight in holding beautiful lovingly grown manna in your hands and turning it into a blissful creation.  Sharpen your knives, clear the cutting board and counter, turn on some great music, (perhaps a bit of vino), and let’s go!  I serve this on the first night of my Haven Writing Retreats!  …food for the muse…

Note:  This is for a gallon of sauce!  It will feed a lot of happy people.  You can also freeze it.  I use about a quart for a box of pasta.

To begin:   The Sofrito– which is the base for many Italian sauces and soups

sofrito

Sofrito Ingredients:

2 yellow onions

4 cloves of garlic → 2 tbsp minced

4 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

 

Additional ingredients:

1 6oz can tomato paste

2 cups organic whole milk

2 cups dry white wine

3 28 oz cans of Italian whole plum tomatoes, hand crushed

 

Meat:

4 slices very thick pancetta, cubed

2 lb ground pork (no spices)

1 lb ground beef

 

Step: #1:  Meat

Add olive oil to cover bottom of pot

Let oil heat but not smoke

Add cubed pancetta

Remove pancetta when fat is rendered and brown (should take about 4 minutes) with slotted spoon so the grease stays in the pot — Don’t burn

Add ground pork

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (note:  you don’t want the meat to stew– you want it to brown, so add each meat so that it touches the bottom of the pan)

Add ground beef

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (ditto)

Set all meat aside and cover with foil

Step #2: Sofrito (cooking process takes about 20-30 minutes)IMG_0125

Saute onions in pot at medium heat, add large pinch of good salt, [no pepper until end-- makes it bitter]

Once onions are transparent and beginning to brown, add garlic, stir, add carrots

Once carrots begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, add celery and parsley, don’t brown

Cook sofrito until all liquid is absorbed

Step #3:  Combine meat to sofrito, and add liquidsIMG_0135

Add all browned meat and can of tomato paste, cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid burning

Add milk and wine, let cook ~15 min or until liquids are absorbed and bubbling

Add the crushed tomatoes and remaining juice (I like to do it by hand rather than buying diced tomatoes.  It’s a feel thing.)Pasta Bolognese

Let sauce gently simmer for an hour, adding salt to taste during the processIMG_0141

 

 

 

 

Step #4:  Assembly:

Bring water to a rolling boil in stock pot, add salt

Cook pasta until al dente– This pasta sauce can be served with any hearty pasta.  I like papardelle, penne, and rigatoni the best.


Strain in colander

Add sauce to stock pot and warm on low

Keeping burner on low, add pasta, grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (a cup or so), fresh ground pepper to taste, and stir lightly until pasta is coated (this is key, and too many Americans skip this step and pile the sauce on naked noodles.  Bad form!  The sauce never really marries with the pasta.)

Plate and garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley

Serve additional fresh ground pepper and grated Reggiano for people to add themselves.

YOU WILL HAVE VERY HAPPY PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE…who will all know that they are eating food made with love.

Enjoy!

yrs.

Laura (and my daughter, Ella, who cooked this with me, took the photos, and recorded the recipe which had never before been written down…and told me a long time ago that my food was “made with love.”  High compliment.)

 

pomodoroNow Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under My Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post #1

Here I Am

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

Said the voice in my head.

“Who’s that?” I wonder

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

again and again.

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

I hear the faintest whisper

“Who?” I grasp at the thought

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

time after time.

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

She shouts at the sky.

I remember you, I pause

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

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

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

She says with some fire.

“Will you take my hand?” I beg

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

Risk my heart and be sure.

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

“Here I am!” I exclaim

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

I dare to be more!

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

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

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

Here I am!

Here I am.

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

Post #2

Permission to Be Juicy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I consistent? No.

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

- Carolyn Hopper

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

3 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Haven Winter Blog Series #5: “Finding Your Creativity”

Help send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click hereIMG_4412

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post #1

 

ella

A Feather Tipped in Glitter

I have been saving a particular picture of white feathers with their tips dipped in silver glitter as inspiration for my holiday decorations. I could envision their creation long before I had them dangling from a simple piece of string. I strung them as garland outside the entrance to my yoga studio. I decorate the studio on a regular basis and keep my eye out for creative ideas to set the scene for a beautiful yoga experience. I like to change the scenery to impart a feeling of care in the space. I want a fresh palate of texture to inspire and invite the idea of possibility and permission for something new or different.  When I opened the yoga studio, two years ago, I was not expecting ownership or teaching to be so influential and instrumental in developing my creative expression.

My relationship with creative expression and teaching yoga has been a steep learning curve.  I consciously create classes and teach them in full fear. The physician in me wants to teach physically sound yoga classes and the creator in me wants to teach classes that are touching and profound. I tell myself to accept that new skills take time. It is not and will not be perfect, ever.

Laura Munson, bestselling author and founder of Haven writing retreats, once shared that there are two kinds of writers.  There are those that plan and those that write by the seat of their pants.  I am the latter.  Apparently, I decorate, write and teach yoga the same way. I find an idea and I go with it.  It is the creative consideration that inspires me.  Whether a blank page or an empty yoga studio, I love having the space for an idea to emerge and come into being.

Unlike decorating and writing, teaching yoga has an element of here and now. Teaching requires flexibility of structure and immediate adaptability.  It requires that I decide, execute and be in relationship with my work in full view in real time. It provides me with immediate feedback. Teaching feels like there is a lot on the line. It matters to me that people connect to themselves in a deeper way. Creating a special effect with glitter and feathers feels like a small order compared to the tall task of creating sanctuary in the minds and bodies of human beings.

By nature of teaching weekly classes I am in a constant creative mode. I have developed a healthier level of comfort with trusting creative ideas.  I can more easily see the way a concept could be presented in an important way. When I am open to letting something grab my attention, I can potentially bring it to life. When an idea sparks my inner creative imagination I begin to formulate and consider where I can take it.  I let myself imagine.

My creativity is often inspired by what is already close to me.  It lies in daily conversations, pictures, activities and single, quiet thoughts.  I was recently studying the yoga word, Svadhyaya. It means self-study or self-inquiry. I caught myself thinking, “What do I stand for?”  What came to me was mountain pose. It is the yoga pose of standing.  I began to consider all of the ways we use the word stand; stand up, stand tall, stand for, stand out, stand back, stand a chance, stand corrected and so on and so forth. All of a sudden, standing had new possibilities. I could imagine my students standing for five minutes with permission to explore their minds and hearts in relationship to these words and concepts as a way of self-inquiry.  I created a class around a word, a concept and a pose. I could imagine students standing against a wall, standing alone, standing back to back with someone else, and lying down as if they were standing horizontally. With a familiar word I created a new format to teach a yoga and creative writing class. I had something to offer and place for it to go.

Perhaps yoga is teaching me to take a stand for my own creative expression. It is teaching me to trust my “fly by the seat of my pants” nature.  I am learning to accept my desire to be creative as an honoring of my souls desire to express and create change. Teaching has given me permission to let go of fear and be led by what inspires and matters to me. It has encouraged me to embrace being seen, here and now, like a feather tipped in glitter.

- Erika Putnam, founder of Yoga 430
IMG_0009

Post #2

Creativity

I must confess, my perception of creativity has changed and grown as I have gained experience, wisdom –ah yes, we can say it – collected years!

Creativity was always something spoken about, taught, shown, and encouraged while I was growing up.  My mother studied sculpture with Waylande Gregory.  His art studio was tucked behind our neighborhood on the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey.  It was a marvelous place to explore and learn that a lump of earth could become a beautiful piece of art.

My mother also sewed our clothes, and stitched beautiful crewel embroidery.  So there was always fabric, thread and yarn to play and make things with.  There was also paper, paints, pencils, anything in arms reach you could think of to use in a diorama for school, or to decorate a doll house.  It surprised and baffled me when I would go to others children’s homes to visit – these items were not there. Or at least not in sight.

Even in college I was painting or drawing, between learning to study to become a teacher.  When I opened The Giving Tree Day Care having items to explore and create things with was first on my list.

Happily both of my daughters draw, enjoy museums and will stop to look at how the light plays on tree leaves.  Creativity is not just something you do with your hands – you first explore and appreciate and question with your eyes.  Then it becomes a part of you, like your own heartbeat.

Now after beholding the beauty of Montana, the faces of Haven, of watching letters:  words explode from my thoughts and park on the page.  
The creativity in my life has changed from paints and brushes, and now grows stronger when writing.  I make a conscious effort to create every day.  Most of the time it is organizing ideas on morning pages.  Some of my blog posts and even a few poems  started while evaluating these ideas and concepts.  After I returned from Haven in September 2012, I created the Touched By Words blog, that I post each month, which allows me to see where the creative process can take me.  Beginning my first novel has given me much more than I ever thought was possible. From providing a gag for my inner critic.  To introducing me to some of the most amazing people.  Authors from all walks of life, in all different genres and all with this amazing warmth and charity to share whatever they have, and whatever they know.  Which allows me to learn more about myself and practice the process to create even more beautiful pieces of written art.  With proper sentence structure, formatting, the mechanics of the art– with words.

In my home, you will see my mother’s sculptures and her beautiful Japanese silk embroidery.  You will also see a writing nook tucked in a dormer, surrounded by paintings, drawings and my children’s art work when they were young.  You will find five desks on three floors that invite you to come sit and explore for your self. Each is different, but contain a few of the same things: scented candles, a variety of colored pens, a plant, art, poetry books, empty pages waiting to be filled.  You will find a yard with a stone dragon sleeping, several Cairn stacked after I returned from Haven, that welcome you to this space near a hammock, close to a bench behind tall azalea bushes or under a canopy.  Where a flat stone serves as an outdoor desk.

Until I began to write this piece, I honestly never took a tally of how many places we have in our home that beckons one to come, sit and create.  Yet I’ve known all my life how important it is to give yourself permission to be free and unafraid to explore and try.  No matter what it is – doodling, painting, coloring with crayons – or for me, right now, to write.  Anything I want, as much as I want, to create something kept private, or to share it with the world.  It is whatever YOU decide to do, but just like taking in oxygen, you have to automatically give yourself the chance to make it happen.  Stop holding your breath and breathe!  I’m worth this and so are you!  Make daily writing a non-guilty pleasure!

So I invite you, urge you, suggest, shout and sing to you! Give yourself permission to find your voice, write, draw, put to music, whatever it is you choose to tell your stories with and allow them to take flight.  You may just surprise yourself and find joy.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace,

- Patricia Young Pattyyoungblog.wordpress.com

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

 

10 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Haven Winter Blog Series #4: “Influential People”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Past is the Future and Time Goes On

When I was young, I stumbled onto one of the three channels on the television and discovered a showing of “Modern Times.”  It was Charlie Chaplin’s greatest work (in my opinion then and now).  It was also the only time the legendary “Little Tramp” got the girl.

In a famous scene, he was caught in the machinery and spit out at the end. How did he get through all that gearing machinations of the modern world and still survive with optimism?

Yet, in the end he did it.

“Buck up!  Things can always get better!!”  Sunset and fade to black. I made the closing theme my own;  “Smile, through your tears and smile…”

It showed, through the arts, a thirteen-year-old girl, could learn to smile!

My father wanted me to live his life over and become the accountant he wished had become.

If there is a room in hell for me, it will have spreadsheets and tax returns. It was a battle that governed most of my childhood.

I’ve gone through the same set of gears Chaplain did.  Many have. But through that, I became a creative soul.  I am proud of the fight I waged to maintain my inner peace.

Chaplain had his comedic counterpart.  Eric Stuart Campbell was 6’5′” and weighed ten stone.  They met stomping the vaudeville boards and made quite the cinematic team.  I gobbled up every bit of film footage I could find, though much of it has been lost to time.

Campbell was a gentle giant and a great foil for Chaplain. They were a worldwide famous team.  His life was tragic.  At the peak of his success, his wife died after a dinner in Hollywood from a sudden heart attack in 1917.  On the way to arrange the funeral later the next day, his daughter was hit by a car and seriously injured. Three months later he married a gold digger. Those of us who have been wounded know what it is to be punch drunk and still trying to play normal.

He died in a drunken car wreck in 1917.  There is very little of his film work left due to the limited technology and storage techniques.

I give myself permission from a long lost fellow Celt, Mr. Campbell, to share my voice.  But empowered, no longer tortured by other’s expectations.

“Chaplin’s Goliath” taught me we live on in many different forms. We can matter after we depart. We are a link in the chain. Thus, I show up every day.  It is my soul chow. I want to live on in a creative way.  I want my words and thoughts and stories matter to someone I have yet to meet. Maybe it is someone who will meet me after I am gone. THAT matters to me as a creative soul; one who wants to make something out of nothing that MATTERS. What I create will somehow become a link in the chain.

Maybe someone will read some of my words decades from now.  Maybe my words will not be read. THAT does not matter.  I need to put it out there and release to the possibilities of now and the future.  Come what may.

And that is what inspires me.  It inspires me to share and be vulnerable.  It inspires me to put my “stuff” out there.  That somehow, somewhere, remotely, my link in the chain will matter.  My words and my voice will be read, reviewed, perhaps remembered.  Perhaps they will even be quoted. I leave my print.

THAT is where my heart is nurtured.   It is where my soul explores and gets inspiration.

But, what of Eric of the Campbell, of Donoon, clan Campbell of Scotland?  Long dead and oft forgotten, ashes forgotten and lost until 1978? His ashes were discovered and interred in Forest Lawn in Hollywood.

And that is what Eric Campbell, who died in 1917, gave to me. He remains here yet.   As a writer and a seeker that is a magical gift.

Our words, and actions and antics count.  Our history counts.  Our story counts. It validates us that WE count, in whatever way the world needs.

The gentle giant lives on. My words thoughts will live on. In some way or another they will be passed on as my grandfathers and uncles quotes will be passed on through me.   As Eric Campbell, therefore go I.  He gave me the gift of eternity.

That is what gives me permission and inspiration.  Maybe, even in this virtual world, my words will be read and matter

I will be part of the tapestry.

It is important to be one of the threads.

- Mary Sigmond  iamonmypath.blogspot.com

Post #2 

IMG_0041Unlikely Inspiration

I’ve lived a left brained life, structure, logic, facts and analysis. That is, until six years ago when I purchased the last copy of a hard covered memoir with a horseshoe on the front.

I read it while on the beach.  Grains of sand and drops of sunscreen graced the pages, as did the author’s words upon my soul.  My journey from left to right brain began. I traveled from rigid, linear thinking, toward creativity and imagination.  I began writing and blogging. This new found shift propelled me to believe I should attend a writing retreat.   September of 2012 I traveled to Montana to do so.

In hindsight, what was I doing? I’d never taken a writing class, attended a workshop or been part of a writing group. I’m a financial controller. My life was filled with numbers.  As my love affair with them waned the pull towards written language strengthened.

I was encouraged to create a writing practice, I didn’t.  I wrote when I could, or moved to.  Two years later, wanting to reconnect with that part of me which resided in fallow; I attended another Haven retreat.  It filled me, and left me empty.  I saw what I could be, not what I was.  I was a half stepping it in the writing world.

Sedona, Arizona called to me in May.   I needed time in this unencumbered space where performance is not expected. Each moment is fully lived.  Rainbows emerge without rain, angel clouds suddenly appear and heart shaped rocks are abundant.

The next to last day of the trip while traveling down the rain slicked red rocks I encountered a wayward heart.  She was a member of the trip team. We had just finished a meditation. It was a personal and emotional one for me centered on Motherhood.  As we converged Rebecca asked me a simple question.

“How many children do you have?”

I answered. I have two.  I gave their names and a synopsis of where they are in life.

In return I asked, “How many children do you have?”

Her pace slowed.  She took a breath, time stilled. “I have one, but I had two.”

With those words I knew who she was.  I realized, for many years we traveled in the same circles, but had never met.  Her son had taken his taken his life a year earlier.

My heart seized.  Words escaped me.  After a few steps all I could muster was “I’m sorry.”

Later that night, at a group event we spoke.  She shared she has been encouraged to write her story.  She’s not ready to travel there.  I introduced her to a Facebook friend who’s finishing a memoir about her son Matt. He passed of an addiction related suicide.  Her hand brushed upon mine, “My son’s name was Matt and he passed from an addiction related suicide”.

The next morning the group met to witness the sunrise. While most of us were in awe of the unfolding beauty, Rebecca was hidden behind her wide rimmed sunglasses. Her arms were folded across her stomach.  I thought if she holds on tight enough her emotions won’t spill from her.

I couldn’t let her go. I friended her on Facebook and began writing to her daily.  She responded.  I shared thoughts, feelings and stories in the hope of reengaging this beautiful woman into life.  In the moments she grabbed on, I smiled.

Every day I found something to write to her about. It may be my perception of what I saw.  The challenges I faced, or my family stories.  She’d respond.  One day she shared her fear of traveling to the place where her son took his last breath.  It was a difficult place to write through, but together we did.

A nagging voice chirped inside of me. I asked my friend, “If my daily writings get too much, please tell me.”

She responded “I love what you have to say. It is a gift.  Keep sharing.”

One rare night while together I revisited the topic, I asked,   “Promise you’ll tell me if you tire of my daily musings.”

She inhaled, “Silver, if I ever say that word you know that’s enough.”

“Silver, okay, got it.” I replied

“Yeah, because what you send me is the gold.”

Several years ago I responded to a blog post that asked, would you write if there was only one person who read your words.  I sat with this for a while.  My answer was yes. If my thoughts and words moved one person, that is all that matters.

Who would have known I’d end up creating a writing practice that does just this.  Each night I share with my friend all that is on my heart. She absorbs it.  As writers, isn’t that all we need?

- Kathy O’Neill

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

18 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Haven Winter Blog Series #3: “Perfectionists”

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 preset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post #1

We All Have a Fanny

I’ve got this woman who lives behind me who constantly shares her negative thoughts and opinions even if I don’t feel like listening.  I call her Fanny because she’s a pain in the ass…  She shows up unannounced all of the time and is never a welcomed guest.  Ever.  Just when I am having a great day and begin to feel very proud of the words I’ve written, the delicious dinner I’ve made, or a gift I’ve created, she rears her ugly “Fannyesque” head and shouts out a criticism.  Do you really think someone will read that?!?!  Are you sure you didn’t add too much garlic?!?!  That kind of looks like a kindergartner made it!!  I don’t know where this evil woman came from but perhaps she is simply the collective voice for every criticism I’ve ever heard in this life.  The collective voice reminding me to play it safe and avoid risks.  The collective voice constantly reminding me that homogony is best in every situation.  I never invite her in, but she’s always behind me because Fanny is the inner critic inside my mind.  I have made many attempts at thwarting her in order to live more freely and creatively, but these attempts have been fairly unsuccessful…until recently.

I was on a flight home from a conference when Fanny was in rare form.  She was berating me for my outfit choices and second guessing every word I had spoken for the four days I was away from home.  It was then that I had an epiphany that I needed to try and make friends with Fanny and greet her kindly when she arrives instead of trying to run from her, or worse yet, engage in her madness and agree with her.

This. Epiphany. Was. Huge.  However, I recognized that it was going to take a lot of work on my part.  I decided I was going to have to do two things in order to create a long lasting shift in my life and stop looking to Fanny for guidance or punishment:  First, I needed to honestly take a look at and acknowledge my own perfectionistic qualities, and second, each and every time I acknowledge them, think of how much I appreciate authentic people in my life and dislike being around perfectionists who are constantly trying to alleviate their own discomfort by proving to me that they are perfect.  How could it be that I admire authentic people so much, but struggle to be authentic myself?  I could make this change, right?

The first creative endeavor I accomplished after this epiphany was to write a blog for work.  Fanny sat in my office with me the entire time, but I chose to invite her.  I listened to her critiques, but continued to write anyway.  And, you know what, when my blog went live on our website, I got really great feedback. Who knew?

Secondly, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house with way too many people for our small dining room and allowed everyone to bring a dish.  I gave up the need to cook and control everything in order for it to be “perfect” and coached myself through the process by remembering a dinner party at a friend’s house that couldn’t have been more enjoyable or delicious…even after her dog took a dump next to the perfectly set table right before we sat down.   That dinner party was so remarkable because her dog completely broke down any perfectionism in the room by being his authentic geriatric self.  After that, we dined on incredible food, drank a bit too much wine, and laughed all night.   This being said, my Thanksgiving feast went off similarly albeit my dog was on his best behavior.

Third, I have dried all of the herbs from my summer herb garden and created small gifts for Christmas presents.  I designed the labels and hand wrote messages on them.  When Fanny chuckled at how immature the labels looked, I laughed with her thinking about how much my dear foodie friends will enjoy using these gifts and how thankful I am that I actually made them this year instead of letting the plants succumb to the winter weather.

Fanny and I may always find ourselves dancing through this interplay of perfectionism and creativity, but I am beginning to see our dance becoming more like a waltz and less like a tango.  With less resistance, we synchronize our steps together gently reminding each other of our individual presence, as well as, taking accountability for each of our parts in this dance of life.  And now, I am beginning to relish in the awareness that I am becoming more like the authentic and creative people I admire in my life and less like a person who is trying to gain the approval of others…in particular, the approval of Fanny.

- Christine Watkins Integral Executive and Leadership Coach  www.AlignLeadership.com

IMG_2378

Post #2

In the Clearing
A wise person once said to me, “Kris, you think that everything you do needs to be brilliant.” My first thought was, “Well, duh. Ahhhh, YeeaaaAH!” But instead, I smiled and waited for her to go on. “If it’s sincere and comes from the heart, it will be meaningful. And THAT’s what will make an impression.” Tru dat, wise person. Though, my perfectionist ego panics daily with the need to shower the world with shiny, dew drops of wit, wisdom and beauty, my soul knows there’s a better way to fuel my fires of creativity.

It’s true, perfectionism, mine in particular at least, is the deathmate of creativity. Both end up going down hard like Romeo and Juliet in a sad, tragic pirouette of fate. The constant drive for the perfect word, perfect approach, perfect shot, perfect moment can lead to perfect paralysis. Burgeoning ideas recede and cower in the dark crevices of my mind, projects float like a lost vessel while I drown in possibilities and decisions and my soaring enthusiasm kamikazes into despair.

Enter self compassion.

At the present moment, I have no less than three notebooks surrounding me. They are there as my gentle companions – my support network – waiting lovingly to capture the twisted trail of schizophrenic thoughts that surface whenever I sit down to create. Instead of forcing myself to banish these extraneous thoughts to a place of exile, or strong-hand myself into disciplined focus, I turn a kind heart to my over-functioning brain. You see, I believe that all of these thoughts are worthy of attention, even the most obscure, self-deprecating, or mundane. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be crying – demanding – to be heard. There’s a potential story, discovery or opportunity for healing or growth in each one: Mom’s stuff on Craigs List –worst daughter – why do I stall – she’s done so much for me…Get to the gym already – healthy body, healthy mind … Are my dogs staring me down right now – Walk them already – they are your reminders that play and exercise are important… My dad has cancer *tear spurts*– my dad has cancer….Remember to bake pumpkin bars-you love baking – it feeds your soul …It was this time, three years ago that you were about to embark upon the worst set of holidays of your life – how little you knew then….

You clearly get the point.  Since I don’t often know where each of these thoughts may go and how much nurturing they need, I give each one enough space among the blank pages of my cherished notebooks to run their course. Turning this ease and compassion inward, just as I would for a scared or confused child, opens up space…helps me breathe…and slowly, the mental clutter begins to dissipate. Grace sets in and I get the chance to get back to nothingness…stillness…my own clearing in the forest. That’s where the magic happens.

Enter S-P-A-C-E.

Clearing the mental, as well as physical space is not only ritualistic for me, it is freeing. In the midst of the chaos of the world, my mind, my life, I am free to thought-bubble, scribble, hopscotch, dabble, dive-in, piece together, smooth out, finesse or even dump whatever I wish. Some would find my process messy, others may relate to a scattered, non-linear journey. Nonetheless, a clear space for me is freedom – the freedom to stretch my wings in the safety of my own sweet, floaty, Bubble-Yum-pink bubble. Though my safe, sweet creative bubble is imagined, the physical space around me is indeed as devoid of distraction as possible. Gone are the to-do lists, bills, things to be put away or straightened. The rest of my house may not be so orderly, but prepping my creative nook for the day is how I give myself permission and encouragement to express whatever is yearning to be let out of the monkey cage. And when my dogs begin barking, there’s a knock at the door, the commercial on Spotify is beyond annoying, and my pink, sparkly bubble begins to deflate, I inhale and exhale through my irritation and remember that I created ALL of this – my life – my world – my problems and I thank my lucky and divine stars. Then, I handle whatever needs to be handled. And when I return to my safe, pink lounge of promise, I do so with perspective. I reflect on everything that I have created and accomplished this far in my life. I see the faces of those who have helped me to get where I am today and slowly, my pink bubble begins to inflate again with gratitude, compassion and space – infinite space – to create more.

- Kris Schleder Hedberg

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

8 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Haven Winter Blog Series #2: “Creativity Leads the Way”

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

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

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

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

In the next weeks, while I go into the winter dormancy of Montana and give myself my own permission to write, these Haven alums will be diving into their heart language to share with you how they show up for themselves creatively.  I hope you enjoy their posts.  I will be chiming in with some of my favorite winter recipes along the way so stay tuned, stay warm, making a nice cup of something soothing, and “lend an ear.”  From Haven to you.  yrs. Laura

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

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

Post #1

Creative Expression Of Me

A few years ago I participated in a personal growth workshop where we learned and then practiced walking meditation. Twenty of us eager and willing students were given the instruction to walk barefoot around the periphery of the sage green classroom, on the dark brown carpet, with the soft music of singing bowls playing in the background. The goal was to continue moving, but move as slowly as possible, after all “there is nowhere to go, not really” said the instructor. I was intrigued, but thought the practice was silly. At first.

Walking for about thirty minutes, I become aware of the tiny bones and cartilage in my feet and the pressure created by the floor, the angular way my hips dip and my knees hinge, and I hear the familiar messages in my mind as they become mute while I repeat the mantra, “there is nowhere to go, not really.” Moving my body around the room, challenging myself to slow it down more, and more, and more, the miracle of my flowing, sensing, alive body fills my awareness. My senses tingle, time fades into a meaningless thought form.

While my mind clears, I drop any agenda I am carrying, and keep my gaze focused on my feet, the weave of the carpet, sunlight streaming in, the person in front of me, and creaking sounds from the floorboards. My awareness expands, while my heartbeat paces with the flow of my being, and all thoughts become peaceful, digestible, present. I let go of something. I remember something. About me. About being human and alive and one of many. Simultaneously it seems nothing matters, and everything matters.

This experience stays with me, and I conjure it up and employ the lessons of what I now know is ‘non-attachment’ whenever I feel the pressured pace of our modern world crushing my creative and free spirit.

“There is nowhere to go, not really.” These words set me free. They disarm the inner critic, and welcome playfulness with words, experiences, moments that invite connection.

When I sit down to write, I remember that nothing I write will matter absolutely, and anything I write might matter momentarily, to someone, and I may never know who. I say a tiny prayer that my words and thoughts and expressions will ease a burden, offer an insight, chart a path or welcome a connection to freedom. Remembering that my purpose is to be an expression of love in all I do keeps me kind, and thus I choose each word with care. Knowing that our shared experience on this planet is fleeting, and wherever we go and whatever we do is a gift, and maybe even a miracle, welcomes honesty and integrity and a fearlessness to tackle the shadowy details that make being human such a gnarly tangled web.

The creative writing I crank out is most often about parenting. What could be more shadowy and challenging than passing along the legacy of misguided patterns and loneliness and love and awkward efforts to get needs met, than the experience of parenting? Every gesture is filled with conscious and unconscious messages, all mixed together, a stream of expressions that carry the family history, and the heavy load that is our entwined collective human experience.

Hugging my daughter, I hold on, longing to feel her heartbeat and smell her distinctive scent for a bit longer than is usually allowed. She indulges me, and I have what I call “a moment.” I live for these. They are my sustenance.

If I can remember to keep myself awake and aware, these moments are enough. They have entire worlds inside them. If I notice, and let them sink in, they sustain me through all the monotony that is a life of ridiculous comfort and overbooked schedules and numbing consistency, mixed with loss and goodbyes and growing old, and a peppering of poignant beauty that practically makes my heart stop with astonishment.

These are the moments I gather. I’m a collector of moments. They give life to my writing, and depth to my creativity. They remind me that my time here is a fleeting experience of risk that welcomes vulnerability which ushers in connection, which nourishes all of me. I surrender to this messiness, and the words tumble out on the page, a creative expression of me. I’m but a whisper here in this dreamy existence of time. And it’s enough. It’s nothing, and it’s everything.

There is nowhere to go, not really.

- Stacey Tompkins tiastruth.blogspot.com

Post #2

Choosing Creativity takes Courage!

I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister.  I was making carpet for the playhouse we were building during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines.  My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly.  Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.

As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college.  My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming.  I would be the first person in my family to go to college.  My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health.  His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and lead to my academic success.

While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than myself. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher.  Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies.  Seeing children struggle with learning lead me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.

My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one.  Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again.  My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.

Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school.  The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression.  While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.

Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.”  I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband.  During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me.  In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.

Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card.  My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana.  Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories.  Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!

- Susan Butterworth www.heart-heels.com

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

 

14 Comments

Filed under My Posts

#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

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

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
September 23-27 (FILLING FAST)
October 7-11
October 21-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Comments

Filed under My Posts

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

IMG_0161

Haven Writing Retreats

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
September 23-27 (FILLING FAST)
October 7-11
October 21-25

…When you see a * it means I thought about checking FB or email. When you see a *** it means that I fought and lost.

as featured in Huffington Post 50

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

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

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

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

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

11692510_10152812503791266_7126759875304212145_n10423740_10152813477876266_3738931421759944360_n11058562_10152813735896266_7134224916415129574_n10390024_10152813769001266_804287410855557470_n

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

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

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

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

13 Comments

Filed under My Posts