Tag Archives: writers

Finding Our So Now What

Willa's Grove

Pre-order Willa’s Grove now! (from your local bookstore, or here)

Book ideas are always coming to me. I’m usually working on a few at the same time and always in different genres—different ways to find the truth. That’s what I’m after: truth. Each book begins with a central question—some quirk of humanity that gnaws away at me. Or something that fills me with righteous indignation, and I burn with it so hot that I have to stop, break it down, and look at it from the inside out. At the root of every book I write…there is the pure longing to understand this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. In our quick-fire, button-pushing world, these sorts of burning questions can easily inspire a rant or a manifesto or land too tidily in Ten Easy Steps or the dread red bow. To me, this approach lacks heart. It is devoid of story, which then fails to build the bridge that as a reader, and writer, I crave. Stories bring us into the collective, hold us there, make us look and feel and maybe even find answers…which of course, beget more questions.

That’s why I love the novel. Out of all genres, the novel imitates and illuminates our stories—yet relieves the burden of reality with a distilled reality. To me, fiction is realer than real. And to me, fiction then unfurls those burning questions in a way that is liberated by possibility. Namely, the possibility of finding an honest answer to the questions that work inside of us like a glass splinter.

We live our lives in questions, and we live them in scenes, with beating hearts around us, especially our own. The question that has driven my life for the last decade is one that I really didn’t think would be central to my life. At all. But my life re-wrote its script, and I’ve caught myself saying over and over again: So now what? Maybe you can relate. Once I started to tune into that question, I heard it everywhere. I heard it from friends, family, and mostly from the people who come to my Haven Writing Retreats. That central question births brawny answers and writing into the answer, whether for yourself or others, is one of the most powerful, healing, hopeful acts I know.

That’s when these characters started calling to me. Willa. Bliss. Harriet. Jane. They called from across the country and from lonely rooms with bleeding hearts. They called out of their shame and lost wonder. They called out of fear and isolation and loneliness and longing. They called to tell me that I am not alone and neither are you. We are in this together. We’ve just forgotten. And that’s why I knew I had to write this book. We need to build bridges to each other. We need to help each other answer our So now what.

I could have written this book as a memoir. I could have written it as a self-help book. But these women called, and I listened, and in giving them voice—sometimes words I didn’t want to write—I found a hole in our humanity. We have lost the gift of conversation. Long, lingering conversation. Where no one is looking at cell phones or watches or thinking about checking off the next item on their To Do list. When is the last time you sat for hours with trusted kindreds and really…I mean really…spoke your truth? Told your stories. For a week. No red bows. No easy steps. No prescriptive advice. No shame or blame. And no fixing. What would that even look like and how on earth would you keep it safe? And…what if you did it far from home…for a whole week? In a quiet, wild place like Montana, say…

That’s what these women asked me. They were relentless. It was dire. They each were staring down the barrel of something you, or someone you love, have experienced. I wrote it once the way I wanted it to go…and then they got louder, and I wrote it again the way they wanted it to go. Six years of listening to and laboring with their questions…and I have Willa’s Grove to give to you in March.

I’m going to miss them. That’s what happens when you live so honestly in the central questions of your life, and when you do it in a community of people you can trust. You relax into warm blankets and rocking chairs and cups of tea by the fire. And you feel safe enough to talk– to really share how you feel and what you fear and what you want with all your heart. These women gave me the answer to my So now what. None of them is “me.” All of them are “us.”

You could argue that in writing this book, I remained in my isolation. In my pain and questions. That I lived in imagined community for six years. But I can tell you that the work I do as a teacher, editor, retreat facilitator, mother, and liver of life was made whole by being in this circle of women. They were my teachers, and we all need our teachers. Thusly, teachers need to be willing to be the student, so the writing of this novel, then, schooled me like nothing I have ever written. (And believe me…there are a lot of books in my office closet that will never see the light of day because I wasn’t ready to be exactly this student.)

Here’s what’s possible when we write so purely from our heart: One day, I was walking in the snowy forest and I came upon a gorgeous aspen grove. As Willa tells the women, an aspen grove is one organism. And it is not lost on them that by the end of their week together, they are one such grove. Hence the title. So when I saw this grove, its black veins so defining against its alabaster trunk and branches, all set against the Montana snow…I stopped. Smiled. Thought, Oh, the women would love a photo of this aspen grove. And I took off my mitten, unzipped my parka pocket, pulled out my phone, took a few photos, and then looked for the text feed that surely must exist between the women of Willa’s Grove and me. Surely. And then I blinked and laughed out loud and said, “My god! They don’t exist!” Call me crazy. Or call the exactitude of story-telling one mighty form of self-expression. One mighty answer to one mighty question. One mighty supplicant-splay on the altar of truth.

It is my hope that people will read this book and think, “I want to host my own Grove week. I want to sit in this circle. I need to sit in this circle. I need to find my So now what. And I promise you, there are three other people out there in your world…who do too. They just might be hiding, pretending, smiling in the grocery store when their hearts are breaking. Ask them. As the book begins…You are invited to the rest of your life.

Love,

Laura

As seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

***Now booking the February Haven Writing Retreat

…and it’s filling fast!

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (filling fast!)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Thanksgiving Gravy Haven

 

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat
s 2020– still a few spots left on the February 5-9 retreat!

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

Well, Thanksgiving is almost here and many of us fear the  gravy.  Fear NOT!  You don’t need flour.  You don’t need to reduce anything.  And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need some powdered packet from the grocery store.  I have been playing around with my gravy for years, and this is where I’ve landed.  It’s a commitment, but you will be having “some turkey with your gravy” by the time you take your first taste.  Enjoy, and remember to tell the people you’re with on this holiday what you appreciate about them.  And stay off politics!!!!!!!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

  • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

  • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
  • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
  • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
  • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
  • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…
Giblet stock for gravy base
Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

  • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
  • Add the neck and other organs—brown
  • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
  • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
  • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
    day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.
  • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

  • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
  • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
  • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
  • Strain the giblet stock.
  • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
  • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
  • Cook down for a few minutes.
  • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 
    Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...
    Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!
And here…it…is!
Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!
Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones! 

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***Now booking the February retreat and it’s filling fast!

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

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (filling fast!)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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The Magic of the Woods: A lesson in wonder

Red-Squirrel-Twins_3-e1544959850294I love to wander in the woods this time of year, when the forest yields its last fruits: the river birches and aspens going gold, the mountain maples blazing red, and the larch starting to think about their green needles turning flaxen and carpeting the forest floor. After twenty-seven Montana winters, I always get this pioneer sixth sense at the start of October. Suddenly I’m scaling the forest for dead trees for firewood, making sure they’re not bird habitat. I forage for rosehips to pull off the wild rugosas to make Vitamin C-packed jelly and marmalade. I take the arnica I’ve been steeping in almond oil since spring, drain it, and cook up my salve for aching winter backs. And I try to time it just right so that I pull the tomatoes off the vine to can, before the first hard frost. Sometimes I nail it. Sometimes I don’t. Such is the dance with October.

But my favorite of all fall forest fruit is the mushroom. This time of year, in my opinion, the best edible mushroom that grows around here is the white chanterelle and I’m obsessed. But I’m also obsessed with all mushrooms, just to see how they grow in their rings, or from hard wood, or push up through the rough detritus and moss to bloom in such blithe and ephemeral glory. Something you could kick with your boot and never notice was there, but something that if you go slowly enough, and dig around, you can stop to behold– to see if it’s edible or poisonous by its gills and stems and caps. I’ve always wondered what creatures eat mushrooms, especially the poisonous ones. I wonder, and then I move on, on a hunt for my harvest.

But today…it was like the forest was playing a trick on me. A really clever trick, and yes, with mushrooms.

I went into a forest where I’ve found chanterelles this time of year. I went with dreams of sautéing them with butter and freezing them as special delicacies when winter is dark and cold and seemingly endless. Maybe I’d brown some butter and add chanterelles with the last sage from my garden for dinner tonight. I salivated as I went, looking for lodgepoles and spruce, and a good canopy and just the right forest bottom– my eye on the prize.

Processed with VSCO with au5 presetI saw boletes mostly. Every-so-often a meadow mushroom. But no chanterelles. So I stopped and looked around to see if I could spot a better way to go. And that’s when my mind went into contortions. I consider myself pretty observant, especially when it comes to walking in the woods, but this one had me flummoxed. Because…laid carefully in the boughs of larch and Doug fir and spruce, eye level and above…there were mushrooms. All the way up the trees. Perfectly placed mushrooms, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The stems and caps untouched as if a forager had sliced them from the ground with a well-sharpened knife. I found myself saying what my kids say, “What even?”

My mind whipped into the mystical, as it has since childhood, especially in the woods. Were they placed there as an invitation to some underworld where beetles and ladybugs had tea with fairies and gnomes? If I touched one of them, maybe I’d be through the portal, sitting at their tiny table like Alice! Was there some system I was missing where insects loosened them and tossed them treeward for fairies to catch and place in the trees for winter food? I’m not kidding. This is where my mind goes in the woods. Don’t judge.

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I almost touched one but then I stopped. I didn’t want to disturb this numinous design.  My practical mind thought, Are they growing there? I looked more closely. No. They were most definitely placed there. Did a hunter do it? Why would they bother– such bigger plans? Were they dropped by raptors? Birds don’t eat mushrooms. I walked further and saw more– mushrooms in conifers everywhere. Carefully placed there and camouflaged. I’ve never seen this before in all my years of wandering in the woods. What even?Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

My mind went back to my childhood storybooks. Maybe I’d come across some dark magic. Wizardry. A witch who needed these exact fungi to make her brew, posing as an old crone with a walking stick in a black robe hiding behind the tree, ready to cast a spell if I didn’t move along. I started to freak myself out. I think I actually like freaking myself out, but only in this way, in the woods. I’ve been doing it all my life, but don’t ask me to watch a scary movie or read Stephen King. (unless it’s his book about writing! Brilliant!)

I shook it out of me. There must be some obvious answer. I just had to stop. And pay attention.  As is the requirement of the wild if you really want to understand its lessons.

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So I found a stump and sat, and I watched. Nothing but a light wind in the trees. And as I watched, I wondered: Why don’t I do this more often, sit on a stump? Why am I always walking in the woods instead of sitting in the woods? What happened to the girl who sat in the woods for hours trying to get one bird to come to me and let me touch it. It happened. A few times. When is the last time I tried to charm a bird? Or what about that girl who lay in her treehouse all day in summer, reading and writing and watching spiders spin webs? I had such a deep sense of wonder and connection then. And even more, I believed that I was not totally apart of this world, but a stranger to another that would surely welcome me with love and belonging. If only I could find that last filament of belief…I could enter a portal and be in another world. I was sure it existed. I knew that all it took was just one more Peter Pan “I believe,” and I’d be in. I always bemoaned my flaw. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t muster that one magic “I believe?”

Along the way, I stopped asking. But I never stopped believing and today was proof of it. I mean—mushrooms in trees? My mind so quick to go to magic, light or dark?

My head started to tingle and I began to lose feeling in my feet. That out-of-body feeling hasn’t happened in a while, and I took a deep breath and wiggled my toes. “Right here. Right now,” I said. That feeling scares me. Maybe it’s why I’ve never danced with beetles and gnomes… Maybe I’m too afraid for true wonder. So I sat there in shame, watching, letting my questions go and just noticing. Noticing is something I ask myself to do when I don’t know the questions to ask, and especially when I’m fairly certain I’m not going to find answers. I just allowed myself to be suspended in wonder. And that required stopping, sitting, watching, being.

Processed with VSCO with au5 presetMy dogs didn’t seem to care one way or another. They were more interested in the squirrels running up the trees, chasing after them, causing them to chatter back from high in the boughs.

Squirrels.

As the dogs bounded into the woods, I watched closer. And I saw a stirring in the snowberry bushes. Sure enough, it was a squirrel digging up a mushroom. And I watched as it picked it up, ran it up a tree, and left it there perfectly whole on a bough, I suspected, to dry and store for winter. How fascinating. How magical. And…how not unlike…me…in the woods, with mushrooms on my mind. My stomach fluttered with wonder, only on the “this world” side of it.

Maybe we don’t need tea parties with fairies if we have this, I thought. Maybe this IS tea parties with fairies. And a surge of joy, like I felt when I was a little girl, started in my chest and spread out to my fingertips and toes. I held it there, afraid it would go, but it didn’t. It stayed. For a good long time, watching this little busy, dexterous, squirrel. As if the stump was the conduit, the keeper, and as long as I sat there, I would feel this elation and connection with the woodland kingdom. So I sat and I sat, and I watched and I watched. Until the dogs came back and chased the squirrel and the spell was suspended if not broken.

I stood, a little sad, but I smiled at the stump, memorizing it, promising to return. But then I remembered that stumps are everywhere in the woods, and where I live, the woods are everywhere. In that moment, I was moved to take a vow:  All I have to do is walk into them and that magic will be there. But I won’t find it if I don’t look up, look down, go slowly, and from time to time stop altogether and find a good stump to sit on. If I find a chanterelle, that’s just a bonus. I’m looking for something much deeper than a mushroom. I’m looking for my wonder. I vow to look mostly for my wonder.Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

I didn’t find my beloved chanterelles. But I walked home and I went to my window seat where I keep my children’s books going back four generations. Hundreds of years of adults opening children’s already open minds to dancing with fairies in the woods. Maybe those books are really for the parents. And I pulled out a few about fairies and gnomes and witches and insects and mushrooms and the woods…and opened them and read them with tears in my eyes and a stirring in my belly. I’m really no different than that girl whose eyes gazed into these exact images with loving words spoken by my elders, while I lay in bed.

And I made myself say out loud: “I believe. I believe.” I wonder what the squirrels know.

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats Montana  2020!

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***Early Bird specials for the February retreat!

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

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Creativity: The great fear-buster

 

dahlia
Now Booking my Fall Haven Writing Retreats in Montana… 

September 18-22 ( one spot left)

September 25-29 (a few spots left)

You do not have to be a writer to come…just someone who is deeply longing to find your voice and set it free.

Click here for more info and to contact me to set up a call… Running specials through 7.31!

I wanted to name a child Haven. But when I met my children in the flesh, it never quite felt like the right fit. I’ve always been attracted to the word Haven: the concept. The practice. To me the idea of Haven comes from a knowing that scary things happen. Big brothers lurk under canopy beds and grab your feet—make shadow hands on the wall until you wet your bed. Grandmother caretakers who are from “good, strong farm stock” fall when your parents are out of town– and you can’t pick them up—and you see what it is to have paramedics in your kitchen for the first time who tell you that everything’s going to be okay.  But you know it’s not. Your best friend’s angel-of-a sister dies of brain cancer when you are six; the last time you see her, she’s bald and you’re afraid of her and you know you shouldn’t be, but you are, and you feel deep dark shame. It doesn’t take long for the average human to understand early on that happiness can turn to heartbreak fast. Things happen. And that’s why your mother cries in church. And why she hugs you extra hard on your way to the bus. And why your father looks so pained by the fact that you’re too heavy to carry up the stairs any more for bedtime. The bigger you get, the scarier life gets. There’s no amount of money or luck or good works that can change that.

But even so, and maybe especially so, we can still create the feeling (never mind illusion) of safety. Of haven.  It can come in a knowing glance from someone you love. Or a familiar smell that radiates from your kitchen most Sundays. Or the feeling of a cool sheet on a hot summer night. I have always slept with at least a sheet over me, even on the most humid mid-western nights. I don’t feel safe without it. It’s silly, I know. But I like the feeling of this kind of safety in small things.

I’ve settled upon that belief along the way: safety best comes in the smallest things. Less to lose. More to believe in. I think that’s why so many little girls love Anne Frank. She found safety during horror, hiding in a small space, writing. Yes, she was hiding. But she was also creating. She could control at least that. When I think of all the places in which my friends and I used to seek refuge…it was always a closet, an eave, a secret trap door that led somewhere—a root cellar, a crawl space. Or a tree house. A play house. Always small, simple places that felt like uncharted territory. We’d put a poster on a wall. Bring in a candle (kids, don’t try this at home). Bring in pillows and blankets. Flashlights and books and magazines. And we’d sit there in uncomfortable positions, practicing refuge. And for most of us, not much had happened yet in the way of scary things.  Still we sought haven.

By the time we become adults, things have happened for sure. No one can escape the “scary” things. No one. So what do we do with that? Hide? Probably not. We have bills to pay, and people who need us to stand there in the kitchen playing short-order-cook with a smile on our face. They look to us for that glimpse that says, everythdahlia_2ing’s going to be okay. And we give it our best shot. Sometimes we pull it off. Sometimes we make dessert instead and that does the trick. Or not.

It occurred to me about ten years ago, after a tri-fecta personal-life sucker-punch to the girl-balls, that life was scary—really scary…and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So I decided to change my relationship with fear. The first thing that went out the window was the notion that there was such a thing as complete safety in the first place. Ahhhhhh. That was a weight-of-the-world purge that brought with it instant liberation. Because if there was no such thing as safety, then maybe there was no such thing as danger. Not as I had known it. The world was as dangerous as it was safe, so why not play with danger? Why not disarm danger? Why not find safety inside of danger?

Rather than waiting for the big brother monster under my bed, I decided instead to claim my safety wherever I am. I didn’t want to be run by fear. I wanted happiness to reign in my self-created kingdom. Joy. Peace. I wanted to understand what Grace was. So I re-trained my mind. When I started to feel that ol’ bastard Fear…I flipped my thoughts into Creation mode. What can I create right now in this moment? What can I be responsible for that would bring me the feeling of safety even in the line of fire? What can I claim for myself in the way of inner peace? It felt a lot like the little girl I once was, bringing pillows into her closet with a flashlight and a good book. I was going to create my own yes, Haven, in my mind. Breath by breath. Heart beat by heart beat. And it worked.

It’s not that I didn’t look down the dark alleys of life any more. Quite the opposite. It was that I didn’t see them as dark. I saw them as chances to find some sort of haven in the midst of the darkness. And the one place I could control that haven, was in the way I thought. I started working with creating that pillow-bedecked closet in my mind. The more pillows and flashlights and cool sheets and good books…the better. I pictured it.  I took solace in it.  I believed in it.  And sooner than later, I found that I could breathe my way into that feeling of haven whether I was on a really bumpy flight over the mountains, or in a hard conversation with a family member, or in a daunting business meeting. I got good at it. Maybe a little addicted to it, in fact. Because it’s absolutely exhilarating to have the opposite emotional reaction to the things that people say and do to you than what society says is the norm. It’s like watching a storm come in hard and fast over the prairie, and get suddenly blown off in another direction. And quite when you least expected it…you’re in rainbow weather. That’s what I want.  Rainbow weather.

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So I didn’t name a child Haven. I took my new way of looking at the world and created retreats for adults who likely are looking for the same sort of way to process the “scary” bits of life. My way has been through writing and reading and so that is what I’ve created in Haven Writing Retreats. If I could build a series of tree houses and pillow forts and call it Haven Writing Retreats, I would. Instead, at Haven, we go to the tree houses and pillow forts of our minds, digging deeper into our creative self-expression on the page, in a nurturing group setting…that helps us know that yes, life is full of challenges. But we don’t have to look at them as scary. We can use those challenges. We can breathe into the groundlessness of them. We can take five days to practice this together on retreat, away from the stresses of life. And then we can bring Haven home to our daily lives wherever we are…in the safety of our minds and the words we choose to create in that sacred space.

I wish sacred safety for you, wherever you are. Find a pen and some paper. Write a new script. Find your haven. I’d love to help you.

Love,

Laura

Email: laura@lauramunson.com for more info and to arrange a Haven Writing Retreat call…

Haven Writing Retreats 2020 schedule:

February 5-9
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

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

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

Our newest Haven Writing Retreats alums!

***OFFERING SPECIAL SEPTEMBER RATES***

(See below)

“I write in a solitude born out of community”

—Terry Tempest Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the refusals would come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW BOOKING:

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

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

Discounted from 7.19-8.1

Sept 18-22 (special rates)

Sept 25-29 (special rates)

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

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The Purge: Reclaiming my office. Reclaiming my solitude.

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Do you have a place in your home where you let all the things you don’t want to deal with stack up? And then ignore it for so long that you can feel its teeth in the back of your neck every time you pass it by? I do. It’s my office. The room at the bottom of the stairs, one step removed from family activity. A place I could steal away to when I most needed it. The place that for years was my refuge, my creative container, filled with trinkets from my travels, artwork that fueled my muse, feathers and heart-shaped rocks, shells, sea glass, petrified wood, tiny beautiful things that I’d arrange like mini cairns marking my creative way. They were glory days. I wrote while my babies napped or went to school or had play dates. And sometimes I wrote late into the night or early in the morning. I made time for myself and my passion, and I was proud to model it for them—to show them that we need to create our sacred space and fill it well. Still, I vowed to keep what I called The Grandmother Chair, empty, just for them, if they needed to join me in my office and share about their day. The door was rarely shut with the Shhh…sleeping sign that I picked up at a hotel somewhere. Over the years they’d tape signs on the door: Mom Rocks, Keep Munson Weird are two of my favorites. I’d even overhear them saying to their friends as they’d pass by, “That’s my mom’s office. She’s a writer.” And I’d smile. It was a peaceable kingdom.

Then life hit hard and my office became a dumping ground for paperwork and forms and bills and things that had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with surviving. Things that scared me like divorce papers, a parenting plan, college applications, financial aid, taxes, a new business to run, a house to keep as the sole adult. And a whole lot more. I’d shove that scary stuff in fast, shut the door, and flee, because I could feel the beast growing in there, holding dominion over that prime real estate in our home. Suddenly, the coin was flipped and I was the one coming into my children’s space, finding a place to sit and share and check in. They were teens. They only sort of wanted me there. I no longer wanted to be alone in my office, creating. When it was time to write, I wanted to be in rooms where life was being lived not just survived. Where my children were coming and going with friends and plans, and where I could sit and at least catch a glimpse of them, steal a moment, a phrase, a “can I fix you a sandwich?” And maybe even, “how are you?” with a real answer that helped me to know that they were okay.

And so my office grew in mouse droppings and dust and photos that didn’t make it into albums any more, bills I couldn’t pay just yet, forms I didn’t understand, and DVD discs, and thumbdrives, and old computers, and chords for things no one makes anymore. As long as that office door was shut, with the permanent Shhhhh…sleeping sign hanging on the door knob…I could pretend that none of it existed, only hearing a low growl when I opened the door to deposit yet another thing I’d “deal with later.” The hard part of life could stall out in my office while I lived the part I loved. And that was getting my last child through high school and off to college, helping my first one get through college and move into her adult life in San Francisco.

Then they all left. And the beast got oddly quiet. Old. Worn out. And maybe I did too. I’d open the door to peer in, see all of the detritus of those hard won years, sigh, and close it. I made it, I’d think. It didn’t take me down. I’m better for it. The kids are thriving. I still have this home and this office, even with its dying beast. I love my work leading writing retreats. I can breathe now.

Finally…finally…last week, I tackled it. It wasn’t because the heavens opened and it all suddenly felt easy. It was because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was coming home and bringing friends and I needed the spare room for my mother. I did NOT want her to have to deal with my beast. And so I opened the door and stared it all down, and collapsed in the middle of the mayhem and just wept. And the beast spoke. It sounded different. More like a sad, old dog that feeds on poetry, the good old days, and anything that has to do with Italy. “You did a good job, woman,” it said to me. “You made it. Mom Rocks, indeed.” Then it perked up a bit. “Let’s crank the Violent Femmes and drink Fernet Branca and git er done!”

And we did. For two days.

It was one hell of a purge. We rolled around in it all. And it was deeeeeeeSGUSTING! Hunta-virus disgusting. I’m allergic to dust, and so I was disgusting too. A snot/sneeze-fest. On top of that, I made myself read every difficult letter I’d kept in a growing folder, so there were gut-shaking tears on top of the rest, and I realized how much misery was in that room. I had to get rid of those letters. And all those stacks of legal papers and tax stuff—that once held so much power. It was time to get rid of anything that brought with it any flash of misery.

I kept the vacuum on the whole time, letting it suck up the dusty scum of what I was releasing in every way. So it was the Violent Femmes droning along with the vacuum cleaner’s breath, on top of dust motes in my nose, and the click click click of not computer keys, but mouse crap being sucked up from under the day bed, and in the closet where my first tries at writing books live. I did not get rid of those. Nor the photo albums. But all the things I’ve been saving for this proverbial “rainy day”—like my son’s report on Ben Franklin. Like old score cards from gin rummy games on the screened porch. Time to go. Time to make this room new.

Here’s what I learned:  Life doesn’t stall out for too long. Just when we are in a place of dread, fearing that we’ll be in that low tide for too long to bear…things start happening. I dreaded this time of my life, even though I knew it would come. The kids would grow up and leave home and good for them. I had children to put them out into the world and to see them thrive. I love my adult children. They are so deep and wise and they teach me and challenge me and even take care of me from time to time. But the question has been: what to do with this next chapter? Maybe keeping it all in my office was a way to be my own Miss Havisham, waiting…waiting…waiting. And for what? All of them to come bounding through the door again with little busy legs and fingers and huckleberry juice on their cheeks? That’s not going to happen. I’m in a time of my life where there are long stints of alone time. Still, there’s writing time. But there’s also living time. And I have to claim it.

So…I decided that next week, after they all leave, and the house drains out to just my dogs and me…that I’m going to re-claim my writing space and deem my solitude delicious. To go into that room again with intention, and to go out with intention too. In this room, I will do nothing else but write, contemplate, read, savor my aloneness, which is required to get into that intuitive place the writer must court and claim. When I go out, I can be a human lint brush, letting things stick to me that are of the rest of life. And life can move and morph that way—in a way that it doesn’t move and morph in my office. In my office I am every single part of me from birth to today and I am mining it all with a third-eye-wide-open aperture that is sacred. In my office I’ll long for this sacred solitude: I am a child getting away with something. I am a child with butterflies in my stomach for all that the day can be. I am a child faking sick to stay home and finish the Black Stallion series. I am a child opening her journal and turning to a new blank page, connecting self to self through words. In my office time is a relative term.

And then when I go out…time as we know it…starts again. It flashes.

There is a poem by Wallace Stevens taped on the back of my office door, on the other side of Mom Rocks and Keep Munson Weird, that I’ve read too many times to count. The last stanza goes like this:

Only this evening, I saw it again

At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked

Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again

And moved again and flashed again. Time flashed again.

Time has flashed again. May it flash for you too…

Love,

Laura

Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019

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

Now Booking: 

Sept 18-22

Sept 25-29

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

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Writing as Living

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I heard the first red-winged blackbird in the marsh today, currently under four feet of snow, and worried even as my heart soared.  I love this sound, but it feels too perilous for the birds to be back when we’ve had such late winter snowfall.  But the birds trust that the dormancy is nearly over and that the greening will begin.  I hope that you feel the same way as we let spring into our hearts.
I am entering into my spring Haven Writing Retreat and Workshops schedule and can’t wait to work with these dozens of new voices and stories coming from all over the world to awaken in beautiful Montana.  While we write, reflect, inspire, and learn, I would like to share the work of Haven alums in our spring Haven Alum Blog Series.  For the next weeks, while I’m holding Haven, these alums’ words will light up my blog.  The topic this year:

Writing as Living

Sit down with a cup of tea and muse upon how they have used writing to navigate life on this beautiful and heartbreaking planet…and take a moment to write down your own reflections on where you are in this time of transition from winter to spring.  What is it that you really need to say to yourself?  What would you really like to leave behind?  What would you really like to move toward?  Here’s a chance to be real and raw, and let the power of the written word, much like the the “snows” of winter, melt away what you no longer need, so that new life can begin.

The blog series starts on Wednesday, April 3rd! 

Please enjoy!

If you would like to take an even bigger stand for your self-expression…

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

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

Haven Writing Retreat alums!

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

IMG_7407I haven’t lived in a city since cell phones or emails or the internet infiltrated our civilization.  So as much as I long for my inner-child Chicago city fix, especially in the deep midwinter dormancy of Montana, when I get that fix, I’m always stunned, disoriented, and frankly worried for our world. The romance of the city, the beat and brash and bravado, the sensory glut, the shiny slick, and the glorious edge…all come at me catapult.  I want to feel every bit of it.  So I fight to keep my Montana filter-less-ness.  I want to do a daring dance with empathy, staring it all down…knowing that I will have to turn away sooner than later, blur my eyes, hold my breath past remarkable stench and heart break.  Still, I ask my heart to pound in pace with city vibrato, until I have to ask my better-sense to grab the back of my neck and force it forward. Downward. Observing only my boots and the sidewalk.  You can’t take it all in, in the end, but I like to try for a wide-eyed aperture for as long as I can stand it.

I try to make that filter-less-ness last as long as I can because I want to see who we’ve become.  I want to see that screens and satellite beams criss-crossing invisibly around us haven’t wound us so tight that we won’t be able to find our way out of this world wide web, if need be.  (I sense that there will be a Need Be.)  I want to believe that these buttons we push without a click or a feel to them, are making our lives easier and our propensity to wonder about the person crossing the street, greater. I want to believe that because it is possible to know so much now with those buttons and those screens and satellite strings…that we’re using that knowledge to linger in our longing to know each other.  Yes?  To sit longer at a meal and ask an extra question of our colleague or daughter or friend. To smile on the subway, especially at sad eyes, or to meet them with our own sad eyes. To step out of the sidewalk sea and sit on a bench for no other reason than:  all of this knowledge has turned us into supreme seeking beings and it begs us to stop.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Know. I want to believe all of that.  But sitting there on a bench, watching the sidewalk sea…I don’t.  I see people walking faster and faster and the beat driving them harder and harder.  So serious and so purpose-driven and so confident about what’s around the bend.

Last week in San Francisco, after leading Haven Writing Workshops, helping people to figure out how to write a book and how to find their voices and figure out what they have to say…I sat there on a bench and I asked myself:  How purposefully and confidently can we really walk when we depend on a small rectangle of light and its buttons and arrows to tell us where to go right and left, and when to walk straight or take a slight turn…or re-calculate. Or push in a few numbers and have a car appear that takes us where we want to go so that we don’t have to look at all.  We seem so cock-sure.  But my Montana-ness knows that it’s such a thin veneer and I wanted to cry out, “Don’t you all know how incapacitated we have all become???  How reliant?  How clueless?  Don’t you realize how fickle our power is if it depends on a cord or a battery or a plug???”  Where oh where is our true power?

Because if and when the beams stop beaming and we are released from the satellite string…nay, rope….will we look up and at each other and say, “Woah. That was a weird dream.  I dreamed I was fine.  Great, even.  But I’m not fine.  Or great.  At all.  And you don’t look much better.  Let’s not even ask each other how we are.  Let’s just be with one another.  That looks like a nice park bench. Come, let’s sit for a while and tell each other our stories. Without looking at that little rectangle of light thingy, whatever it is. Let me see your hand.  It looks tired from holding that flat ‘smart’ thing. Remember when your hand used to hold reins and gallop to the river? Or hold the plow? Or palm the seed by the light of the full moon? Was that better then? Did we look at each other more? Did we not know where we were going but for news from the next town over from a wayward traveler? Or from the way cottonwoods flank river beds across a valley? Or that the shape of a nine-month pregnant belly meant that the world around that woman needed to ready itself for another miracle?  Get the hot water boiling.  Sterilized rags.  Call the midwife?

Is our midwife named Siri now?  (At least mine has a British accent, so I feel “smart” to have a chum like her when I wander around at her discretion, muttering to myself, this is not the zombie apocalypse.  This is not the zombie apocalypse.)

Because that’s the thing:  I have to be careful not to pretend like I am above any of it just because I don’t live in the thick of it.  If Montana has taught me anything, it’s that I know I’m not above anything.  In fact, being so removed from our city civilization for twenty-seven years, often has me in a state of less-than, full-FOMO, feeling like an underconfident and yes, under-competent Rip VanWinkle.  Like when I’m in the city, I’ve been jolted awake from my own deep sleep, the opposite dream, in which I’ve been too long nestled in the cleavage of Mother Nature, going days without speaking to anyone, my only witness, the white-tailed deer.  My cell phone doesn’t even work at my house.  My wifi is fickle and so is my power.  The fireplace is not decorative.  It’s a hearth that would burn if all else failed in the way of technology, and there have been plenty of winter nights when it’s the keeper of my hope too.  And I lie there staring at its flickering coals and feeling its heat, thinking that fire is where it all started.  Fire was the initial step that humans took to what has become our giant step into our current state of things.  How different was that first spark from what happens in Microsoft think-tanks in Palo Alto?

So I wonder:

Have we always been like we are now, just with different gizmos and the same ambition?  So cock-sure in our questions and so hungry for answers? Did we claw our way up the invention ladder to this world of technology that has become our norm, yes even in Montana, (though my best friend still has dial-up and doesn’t have a cell phone at all), and has our technology really made life easier? Has it really connected us? How do we really feel…alone in the dark with our little rectangular screens giving us answers about where to go and what to do and how someone else is feeling and what they are doing?

All week long, walking the city streets, I saw despair, is what I saw.  Emptiness.  A lot of people in comfortable, yet chic, shoes, a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, ears full of headphones, Bluetooth, earbuds, talking into the ozone.  Loudly.  I saw people looking into screens for answers, not into each others’ eyes. The conversations that came easily were with– get this: Uber and Lyft drivers…most of them new to this country and trying to figure it out too.  And thus, also looking at screens for answers—shortest route, traffic, construction.  But still, into the rearview mirror, asking me how my day was going. I didn’t tell them any of this. I told them “Great!” Like everyone else. I guess a filter can only last so long, unless you want your heart to break.

So before it did, with two more days in the city, I promised to linger longer at each table with my little rectangular notebook instead of my phone. Pen to paper I wrote what I could see and recognize about our city civilization that lasts, regardless of how we have, and will continue to, develop as a species. I asked myself:  what’s been here from the beginning and what will be with us always, besides the fact that none of us is getting out of here alive.

It was the stuff you’d think it was.  I wrote:

I believe in people’s central goodness.  Just look at the way that man helped that older woman with the cane get to her seat, and waited with her until she was settled.

I believe in our need for community.  Just look at the way this restaurant has a communal table and that it’s fuller than the bar.

I believe in our fear.  Everyone’s talking about the earthquake last night and recalling 1989.  And no one is cavalier.  “Isn’t there a way for them to know when they’re coming?” I asked.  No.  Not even Siri can tell us that.

I believe in the collective.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t we all do as my literary hero, and perhaps me too:

“The world that used to nurse us
now keeps shouting inane instructions.
That’s why I ran to the woods.”
― Jim Harrison

I believe in our ability to stay.  Hold vigil.  Keep the hearth warm, whatever that means for each of us.  The tenacity of the homeless who brave the nights in doorways with one blanket and maybe some cardboard.

I also believe in our hope.  When it’s time to take a new step in a new direction.  And it might be a surprise step.  I believe in our ability to believe that there’s something around the bend that might change everything, and it might change everything for the better.  Better being a relative term.

And I think all of these core beliefs apply to any sort of living—country, city, suburban.  But it does require us stopping from time to time, moment to moment, and removing the filter to check in on where our civilization is and isn’t.  So find a bench.  A stoop.  Some steps.  And stop.  Take pause.

I’m about to go to Morocco for a month of it.  Alone.  This is my deep bow after all these years of day-to-day hands-on mothering.  It’s also my call to action for what’s ahead—to live into it bravely and whole-heartedly.  And who knows if my cell phone or my GPS will help me navigate the labyrinthine medinas and markets and if I’ll find my way effectively across the desert.  I don’t speak Arabic, or even French.  I’m going to get by on these core beliefs.  I’ll be writing about it along the way.  I think we all need to take a giant step out of our lives and see who we really are, alone in the world, without technology.  Become disoriented and wobbly and look our fear in the eye and each others’ fear too.  I found some good walking shoes.  My daughter gave me a beautiful blank-paged journal for Christmas.  I have a good book.  I have my beliefs and I have my central goodness, which I have to believe is greater than my fear.  Just like love.  Just…like…you.

Bon Voyage.

Love,

Laura

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

March 20-24 (full with wait list)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) is full

 

 

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Come Together…Right Now.

community linking hands_136056599There have been two events in the last week that have brought deep calm and hope to me where I didn’t know hope was missing.  I hadn’t realized how much the news had been weighing on me. I’ve felt a responsibility to watch it, read it, try to understand it– but I think that the current state of this country has been breaking me down from the inside out.  Hard.  And I now know I’m not alone.

For the most part, I keep my political orientation to myself, but I realized this week, that the breakdown I’ve been feeling transcends partisan opinions or beliefs.  It is a deep wound of disorientation.  Of assault on what I believe is the basic goodness of people in general and leaders in specific.  And I see now that our collective is feeling it to the bone.  Bone on bone.  Late night TV isn’t even that funny.  I watch it as a nightly relief, and yes I laugh…but lately, I sort of want to cry at the jokes too.  I feel…despair.

I’m a bucker-upper.  A glass-half-full kinda gal.  A this-too-shall-pass person.  So this despair thing is something new and I dearly and desperately don’t want it to become my new normalIn this last week of hope, I’ve realized that I want to/need to feel like I belong to something that is a firmament of integrity and goodness.  I need to trust-fall into that firmament and know it will catch me and hold me and let me give it my faith.

That happened to me this week.  Twice.  I want to share a bit of it with you so that you know, in case you’ve forgotten, that it’s possible.  But it doesn’t happen by accident.

Hope #1 (not in this order)

I spent the morning of December 5th like many of us did:  watching the George H. W. Bush memorial service.  Politics aside, the sum of its parts blind-sided me with overwhelming sobbing.  Reverie.  A deep internal bowing.

I couldn’t stop it.  I didn’t want to stop it.  There was a fierce intuitive understanding that I needed to cry those tears.  Watching that grief-struck family in that hallowed American hall, with those old hymns and military overtures, those speeches and the appropriate laude and honor…it was clear to me that we were mourning a good man.  The man that was being mourned and honored represents something that I hold dear, and that is the importance of a strong, good, leader who loved his wife, his family, his country, and who believed in kindness and even gentleness.  Who came from an era of loyal patriots that didn’t whine or blame or boast or spew morass.

It brought me back to the rooting of my childhood when I stood in church next to my father and harmonized on hymns and held his liver-spotted hand and played with his soft blue veins and looked at his high white thumb moons and knew that he was the gentleman he was because of his hard work, his WW II pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps way of showing up, his values, his ethics, his common decency, his dedication to his family, his job, his community, his fellow human.  I hear his “Shoulders back, Munson” every day, especially when I need courage.

I believed in those things because of him and the other class-act gentlemen I was raised with from that era.  I cried because I miss them.  They’re dying off.  And in this daily incineration of our hearts by the nightly news…I just want to believe in our country and feel like I can trust-fall into it like I did even then, again, politics aside.  Watching that funeral, I realized that I have never felt more vulnerable and heart- sick as an American, than I do right now.  I long for unity.  I have never seen such division and while I try not to focus on it, how can you not feel its corrosion of the collective?  It’s everywhere.  Remember Hands Across America?  I want to link arms, whatever is your politics, and be good together.  I believe in our central goodness.  My father did too.  He raised me to believe in it, to look for it, to be it.

As I watched those speeches and listened to the Episcopal liturgy of my youth, the bible verses and hymns, I wept.  Sobbed.  Smiled through tears.  One of my very favorites:  O God, our help in ages past.  I sang/hummed along to every verse of it.  I cried at the soprano descants.  The altos grounding it.  But mostly I cried because I saw a family there, grieving their legendary patriarch.  And giving us our own grief to mourn as patriots.  Not divided.  For a few hours, I forgot who our president is, what crazed gun-slinging madman or natural disaster has just devastated a community.  We were crying good tears.  Together.  And I believe that we were grieving not just a man, but our unity.

Tom Brokaw said it so well, holding back tears, just after the service:

“I’ve never seen one that had such an important message that was so far reaching. It was an Episcopalian ceremony with an ecumenical message.  And the message was about faith and hope, but family and values.  About dedication to, not just your family, but your country as well.  And to know WHEN you have to cross the aisle and pull together.

…I think for a lot of people this was a distillation of a message that we all need to hear.  …We ought to be thinking about the message that we heard here today.”

Hope #2

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I also felt that trust-fall into hope in a home in Palm Springs, CA last week, in celebration of two wildly talented women:  an author, and a musician, brought together by an Emmy award winning journalist.  They were having dinner one night, and they decided to celebrate with an intentional gathering of kindreds.  We came from all over—fifty women.  We came with our hearts in our hands, and we came without wanting things from one another, other than community, inspiration, and loving connection.

We were welcomed with the invitation to put down our phones and connect with one another, have those conversations that we all need to be having, in person, looking into each others’ eyes.  We were promised that each person was specially chosen to be at this celebration and that as a result, we were with kindred sisters.

I put any residual adolescent PTSD aside and spent the day trust-falling into each circle of women, and like-wise, holding them as they trust-fell into my circles.  It was an Us Us.  All day.  Hiking through Indian Canyon, eating delicious food, hanging by the pool and hot tub, and all the way through to dress-up evening clothes, and Happy Birthday, and for some of us, late night shenanigans.

Every single one of these women felt like an immediate sister to me.  We all knew that we are highly sensitive people, prone to high-octane empathy and sometimes overwhelm, and we did it anyway.  We trusted each other and we told each other our stories and we tried to find meaning and hope in what feels so painful in our national collective– though we spoke less about that pain, and more about the hope.  And we freaking laughed and played like fifty of the best playmates you may or may not have had as a child.  Or in high school.  Or college.  Or even with your current friends.  But we didn’t talk about what we didn’t have.  We talked about how we wanted more of this!

At one point, I turned to a writer friend who has done my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, our toes wiggling in the warm pool like little girls, and I said, “We are all fluent in this language.  And yet we so rarely speak it.”  She nodded, smiling, and said, “Write that down.”  Which is what I am constantly saying at Haven.  It was so nice to be told it!   So I did, and here it is.  Let’s memorize it.  We are all fluent in this language of connection, and yet we so rarely speak it.  It really is…our Mother tongue.

By the end of the evening, all of us sitting on the floor, eating, laughing, throwing out our arms or putting our palms together as we shared our truth, sometimes touching without meaning to and not apologizing for it, like one organism, moving our appendages in an alchemistic equilibrium, our hostess stood up and called out:  “Shall we meet again next year?!”  And we all hooted and hollered, “YES!”

I kept finding myself saying, “I’m so happy.  I haven’t been happy like this in a long long time.”  It was a surprise because I’m happily with groups of women all the time.  But ‘tis true that we need to receive as much as we give, to make a whole, effective person, and a whole effective heart.

So there it is:  we’re STARVED for connection.  LOVING, supportive, raw and real…connection.  I know this as the author of a memoir, and as the leader of retreats because I hear over and over again messages of gratitude for helping people know that they’re not alone.  But I didn’t realize that I’ve forgotten this as a woman, away from a leadership position.  Everyone in that room is in a leadership role in her life.  And everyone in that room was happy to leave it for the day.  I was so happy not to lead.  To listen and take it all in, and say things in a way that doesn’t have to be quotable or learnable or teachable.  Just to truly…let it all hang out.  Let it all fall back.  Not lean in.  Fall back…in trust and true connection with no agenda except for the hope of feeling known and knowing with our empathy as our guide.

So what I know of hope right now, is the feeling of falling into it and trusting that there are people who can hold you, just as you promise to hold them.  In total health and harmony, heart, and yes hope.  A more kind and more gentle nation…indeed.

I want to thank the women for taking their dinner trio think tank/love-fest, fifty-fold.  I want to thank the nation for stopping this week for a few hours to feel unified.  I want to thank you for reading this and for picking up your lone hand and placing it in the palm of another’s.  We can do this…together.  We have to.  No choice.  We are the UNITED States of America, after all.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

March 20-24 (only one spot left)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

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***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info:  laura@lauramunson.com

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Heart Language

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I woke early this morning, as I seem to do these days, with words.  They were for myself, and I relished them.  And then I decided to give them, in gratitude, to my Haven Writing Retreat alums on our private online page.  As I wrote them, it occurred to me that I am just as grateful for my readers.  So I offer these words to you, as a Thanksgiving:

As we go into the holiday, I want you all to know how grateful I am for you. Outside of my motherhood, Haven is the greatest blessing of my life. You have all engraved yourselves, your muses, your voices, your stories, your pain and joy and self-discovery…into my heart forever. You might think that I don’t remember you, or that you didn’t make an impression on me. It’s not possible. You are all there, in this place called Haven, which I carry with me everywhere.

What I want for you: is to write.  However that works for you, based on who you are and what your life is like and what your responsibilities and habits are.  What I want for you:  is the permission to make time for writing in your life. I want this for you because I know writing to be one of the purest ways to navigate this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I know it because I live by that purity. Do I write every day? No. Do I live with my heart and mind and eyes wide open? Yes. That’s writing too. If you live in this way, then it works in you even when you’re not putting pen to paper or pounding on keyboards. What you are looking for is simply this: truth. Your truth. And if you wake up to that longing and that birthing every day and live by it…the words will come.

Sometimes they’ll want to be put down somewhere. In your journal. In an essay or a short story or a memoir or a novel or a poem or a song. For the last six months, I’ve been writing my way through this Empty Nest transition. I write most mornings but not all of them. Sometimes I read instead. And yes, sometimes I succumb to my email inbox or social media instead. When I do that, I always pay for it. Like I’ve cheated myself out of that meditative waking trance where truth lives. I go into my day scattered, like I’ve flung myself to the wind, and I come down in pieces. I spend my day gathering myself and to no great avail.

So I try very hard not to do that. I try to fall asleep knowing that when I wake, I will honor my rest by going gently into the day with the alchemy of slumber which so often begets words. Not just any words, but those pure words that I call Heart Language. The more I trust in this, the more I wake with a few words of Heart Language that have given themselves to me in my sleeping. When that happens, I go straight to my journal or to a Word document on my computer. I turn off my Wifi so I’m not tempted to stray from them, but instead to honor them fully and see what they need to become. To see how they can hold me in this new day.17212146_10154113844731266_1738394229619340222_o

As you move through this holiday season– maybe with all of your traditions intact, just the way you love them to be, or not…may you take a moment before you move into your day, to let your Heart Language out and onto the page. Root yourself in those words and fasten them to you as you go. Surely this holiday, there will be some sort of gratitude and some sort of disappointment. Holidays just work that way. But if you have the purity of your unique Heart Language guiding you, holding you, you will have clarity and even solace.

So write down some words that will help you. Words you can breathe with. Words you can fold into when you’re tired or sad. Words that you can wrap around you when you need comfort. Or words that you can whisper in a room, alone, when you need courage or just a reminder of who you are, just you. Maybe even words you can offer as thanks to someone you love. My words this morning, and they woke me early as if to say, “you need to write this down so you don’t forget, so you have this one phrase to hold you this holiday without your children,” were: You get to be happy now.

Was I so unhappy, I wonder, in these last six months? I spent an hour writing about it, pre-dawn, pre-this-note to you. I feel grounded, rooted, clear, true, and yes, purified. That’s what I’m fastening to my heart as I go through these unusual days of Thanksgiving, without my motherhood or traditions intact. There will be different ways to give thanks and take pause. My words, as is their promise, will work their grace in me. I hope that you have your words, even if you don’t have your people, or your place, or your usual. If you want to borrow mine, feel free.

You get to be happy now.

With love and gratitude,

Laura

P.S. For my ridiculously deelish gravy recipe, go here!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

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

March 20-24 (only a few spots left)
May 8-12
June 12-16
June 26-30
Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info:  laura@lauramunson.com

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