Tag Archives: writing retreat

Summer Rules: Stop. Sit. Watch.

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I sent my son off to baseball recruitment camp yesterday morning.  In a matter of months, I’ll know where he’s going to be spending the next four years.  In one year I’ll be attending two graduations:  My daughter from college, my son from high school, both of them onto the next giant step of their lives.  And me too.  I suspect I’ll be this woman that I wrote about in 2014, on park benches everywhere.  That’s my goal.  May this inspire you to “let the parade pass you by.” 

When is the last time you sat on a bench in your home town?  It’s summertime here in Whitefish, Montana, so that means there are tourists enjoying the view from our town benches everywhere I look—taking a break from the overwhelm of our nearby Glacier National Park, our stunning lakes and rivers, and miles of pristine wilderness.  I’ve lived in Whitefish for twenty years and with our long, dark Montana winters, summer is my biggest bully, beckoning me to get on my horse, put on my hiking shoes, pack up the camping gear, grab the huckleberry bucket, paddleboard, canoe…and get after it, as we say around here.  And “it” is a high calling with vast reward.  I have been good at “it.”  Not this summer. 

This summer everyone in my family is running in a different direction.  Perhaps you can relate.  My daughter is leaving for her first year in college in a matter of weeks, baby-sitting 24/7 to help pay for her expenses (we should all be $baby-sitters$ these days!)  My high-school bound son has been up to his ears in baseball— his 13 year old All Star team not only winning State, but last weekend, Regionals!  (They went up against teams from all over the Pacific Northwest who had hundreds try out for those coveted spots.  They had twelve.  Small town miracles do happen!)  Personally, when I’m not watching baseball games or filling out college forms, I have been under a deadline for a novel I’ve spent the last few years writing.  (Deadline was yesterday.  Made it—phew!)   In other words, I haven’t stopped to enjoy summer.  Haven’t seen my horse.  Haven’t taken one hike.  Went out on Whitefish Lake once thanks to a friend with a boat who took “pity” on me when she saw my pasty skin.  Got some fresh huckleberries from a friend and her secret huckleberry patch, which I guiltily used in our pancakes the next morning.  It felt like cheating.  Most of all, I haven’t felt part of my community.  And I miss it.  I need to sit in it and just be.WF

So yesterday, when our town threw a parade for our Whitefish All Star champs, I got there early to make sure I captured it all on camera and cheered alongside the fire truck holding those glowing young men.  I was all ready to go, expecting the fire truck to round the bend at exactly 5:00 as scheduled in our town newspaper, but there was no parade to be seen.  I waited, checking my camera to make sure I had remembered the memory card and a charged battery—(I have an uncommon knack for forgetting both in the most photogenic moments), texting my son to find out what was going on.  Whitefish loves its parades.  I got a text back.  Schedule change.  Not til 6:00.  I had an hour.

Normally, I would think, “Ok— what can I check off my list?  What mail needs to be sent?  What errand can I run?  Do I have anything at the dry-cleaners?  But the stores were closed and my car was parked far away…and there was the nicest empty bench on the street corner in the shade.  And I thought—what the heck.  Why don’t you just sit down.  Take a load off.  People watch.  And BE.  See what other people see when they sit on our town benches.  The Burlington Northern railroad running through, the azure skies and popcorn clouds.  The emerald green ski runs on the forest green mountain.  The children skipping alongside their carefree vacation-minded parents.  The older people licking ice cream cones and gazing into shop windows I race past every day, really taking it all in– commenting on the western art.  “Oh, that’s lovely.”  And moving on, slowly, on the shady side of the street. 

Summer can be slow.  The “it” can be something quiet.  Meditative.  Simple, with no proof– not even a photograph.  I decided yesterday, sitting on that bench, that I’m going to become a bench dweller.  I’m going to make a practice of sitting on benches, especially in my home town.  I want to see the wonder of what Whitefish looks like to people who are seeing it for the first time.  I want to say, “Hello” to strangers, and locals too, and give benign smiles that have nothing to do with team sports or college entrance or work or who are the best teachers, or who are you going to vote for, or even what’s in the local paper.  I just want to Be in my town.  Take a load off.  Sit a spell. 

When those fire trucks came around the bend, I grabbed my camera, ready to shoot in rapid fire, to share on Facebook and with the paper and everybody else for that matter.  But instead, I stood up, and waved, smiling to my son and his team, took one picture, jogging alongside them for a few steps to show my support.  But then I stopped and watched, smiling and proud, as the truck made its way down Central Ave.  And I sat back down on the bench.  Being a parade chaser is too exhausting.  Sometimes it’s better to let the parade pass by.  There will be more parades.  Most of life is about all the stuff that lives between our heightened moments.  That’s the “it” I’m going to start getting after.  On little benches everywhere.  I invite you to do the same in our last weeks of summer.

champs

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

February 21-25 (now booking)

The rest of the 2018 schedule to be announced…

Follow me on Facebook for more news, community, and inspiration!  

 

***We reached our goal and our baseball family is leaving for the Babe Ruth U-13 World Series in Virginia today!  Thanks to all of you who helped make it possible!

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #9: Finding your Voice

Being passionate for our safety first is our bottom line non-negotiable.  Maybe then, pain wouldn’t have to be gain.  And walls would become doors, and pain would become passion and possibility.  And I’d like to think that a little writing along the way helps…At Haven, I teach people to find their voice, their passion, their sustainability through writing, in whatever form they choose. I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice, but what does it really mean?

Here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression. Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #17: Beyond Silence by Caroline Hemphill

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After tucking us in to bed, my mother would bring a bottle of wine and a glass down to the basement, shutting the door behind her so we wouldn’t hear her sobbing. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, given six weeks to live. My brother and I would sneak down to the kitchen and press our spying ears against the basement door. If I skated across the floor in my footed pajamas, my brother waved me back. We kept vigil, knees on the chessboard linoleum.

For a year after her death, I barely spoke. My voice seemed buried with hers. I was shy of life, timid, afraid to breathe. Writing was a way to become real. Over the years, I practiced all kinds of lives on paper. I wrote stories in the voices of animals. I wrote pastoral poetry while living in a trailer. In college, I went to plays, trying to figure out how to bait a line like Tennessee Williams:

Margaret: Y’know what I feel like, Brick? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Brick: Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it, cats jump off roofs and they land on their four feet uninjured!

I wrote poems where it snowed and snowed. I copied other writers, their confidence, their daring. I wanted to be a writer but it felt like pretending. I wore concrete shoes. I typed with my eyes closed.

One morning, I woke from a nightmare that my boyfriend had run off with my best friend. I told him the dream over pancakes. It was real, I said. I’m here. With you, he said, annoyed. Within six months, he had stolen my truck and driven all night to bed her. I can’t blame him—she was beautiful—and I can’t blame her—she was beautiful. It freed me, and I am glad, now, though not about the truck. That experience told me to trust my dreams so I started to write them down. Chagall painted his dreams. Mary Shelley, Stephen King. Dreams allowed me to go further into the woods than I would venture in daylight. Within a few months of writing down my dreams and working the images into lines, I published my first poems.

When I write, I try to kick that basement door open. I take an ax to it. I run down the stairs to my mother. And she is never there. In reality, the door had no lock. I tried once to turn the tarnished brass knob. My brother grabbed my wrist. Listen, he whispered, and we pressed our ears to the door.

Before I could piece together my memory, I had to hear the silence after my mother stopped crying. I had to allow it to flood and erase everything in its wake. I became driftwood, an empty bottle, a plastic bag pulled by the current. Silence wins. But there is something on the other side of silence. It’s startling and sudden and not yours to keep like a piano spilling onto the street. The whole world is a door.

 - Caroline Hemphill

 

 

Essay #18: I Will Stand Up by Lauren Dembo Menis

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Here is my promise to you. I will stand up.

As a Jewish, South African woman, I have never felt the sting of racism or hate. I have been part of the oppressor class, and I carry that with me each day as a burden of guilt. I watched through a child’s eyes as my society, empowered by the rule of law, treated an entire race of people as a different class. I am no longer that child. And I will no longer stay silent. I will stand up.

Throughout my childhood, I saw my beloved Ray-Ray, a woman whose only choice, which is no choice at all, was to work as a live-in maid, to cook and clean for my family and to raise me while seeing her own daughter only once a year. I watched as she hid under the bed while policemen banged on the door, ready to take her away if she didn’t have the right stamps in her passbook. I saw her “home” in the back of our house, a room with a concrete floor, a bed and not much more. To Ray-Ray I promise that though I did not before, I now will stand up.

To Liz Thompson, whom I know only from a Facebook post, who held her purse and her tongue on the New York city subway while a man spewed his vile racism at her, while everyone around sat mute, I say this. I will stand up.

To those of you who were there, who watched as she was berated and did not stand up, I say you are complicit. Whether you were stopped by fear or civility or just shock, whether you are still adjusting to this new world where people suddenly feel they are allowed to bring their prejudices and hatreds from the darkness within which they reside out into the light, know that there is no longer room for complacence. This is not a time for silence. We must act. We must stand up for those among us who are targeted. Never mind that it could be you next. That is not the point.

The thought of Ms. Thompson, holding her purse and her words while her tormentor was allowed to rant, will not leave me. I wish you bystanders had stood up. Because it is no longer okay not to. And so I make this pledge to you. I will not stay silent. I will not watch as anyone is threatened or treated like they don’t belong or made to otherwise feel less than. I will use my voice, my words, everything I can to speak up for you.

To my Muslim friends and those in my community, when I hear someone tell you you are not American, that you don’t belong here, that your religion is not acceptable to them, I will stand up.

Last week, when the words of anti-Muslim hate allegedly from a city employee were captured from a Facebook post, we fought together. Through emails and phone calls and research, we spoke up. And we won.

To the self-hating bottom-feeder from my home state of Georgia who posted an ad for a barbecue grill as a “Jewish baby stroller,” while you are not really worth it, hiding behind your screen, you have been outed. You are nothing. And we will not let you win.

I am not poor. I am educated. I have white skin. And while I am suddenly aware of my Judaism like no other time before, it is not something you can see on me. But I will not be silent. Passivity is no longer an option.

To the man in the East Atlanta coffee shop who took a photo of the woman in the hijab and then called her names, she stood up. She videoed him and outed him. He was identified and shamed. And this is what it takes.

And so I ask you – who are you going to be in the strange new America we now live in? No time before in my lifetime has the cliche that there is strength in numbers been more true and more of a call to action. I heed that call because numbers start with one. We have marched and we have made phone calls and we have commiserated about the madness. But we must, as individuals, fight for each other. Because each act of hatred that is faced, each time a person who feels they have permission to engage in repulsive behavior is called out, is a victory for our humanity. The small acts are as important as the larger ones. We must stand up.

 - Lauren Dembo Menis

 

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #8: Finding your Voice

 

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out. 

The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #15: Why I Write by Carol Howard-Wooton

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We arrived at a Youth Hostel somewhere between Banff and Jasper at 4 pm. I claimed my mattress in the girls’ dorm and returned to my three-speed Raleigh bike to retrieve the green spiral notebook from one of the saddlebags. Finding a quiet place with enough light, I wrote about exuberant physicality – pedaling as fast as I could downhill chased by a snorting bear cub – escaping danger by what I now call grace. Back then, it was yet a another wonder I had to write about. Equal to the first time I washed my hair in a crystal clear waterfall, or that I was fine with only the clothes that fit in two small saddlebags, or that time Eddy, the cute older trip leader and I stood beside one another on an alpine slope, right after a thundershower – our eyes riveted by the danger that did not befall us and a luminous sunset-pink sky between two distant mesas. And I got the guy! I didn’t dare tell anyone, not even my best friend. It was Private. Writing captured awe, wonder, and heart-throbbing longing, and protected me from the stinging shame that always followed even good-natured teasing. I thought I was smart to not be stupidly trusting enough to speak my truth.

That little green book is safely packed in a box in my closet. Every time I hold it I am reminded of my Dad who worked in hot NYC that summer to pay the bills, and the generous, wise parts of my Mother who let me go on that first adventure where I formed my inner self through writing “in-ventures.”

Deep Time opened up again at age 38 after a stroke knocked me off the express train to success by 40. I wrote because I had time – lots of it. And was alone more than I’d ever been. I couldn’t drive. I wrote because I could. And, I was fascinated by being this bewilderingly strange me in a new body and brain. I’d watch and feel my hand slowly move across a blank white page. I’d try one kind of pen, then another, or a different color ink. I was doing something! I’d watch the hand that still knew how to form letters and mostly how to spell words. Words that represented my inner knowing even when it was so hard to walk down and then back up 32 stairs at our San Francisco flat. I wrote because I could hardly work. I wrote to name, feel, explore, understand who I was now and what all the loss meant. I wrote because, even with all the disability and uncertainty, I felt safe – held by an abiding love. I wrote because I was amazed the stroke led me to my life’s work: leading groups for Folks with Strokes.

The first poem of my own I dared read aloud wrote itself through me. On the last morning of a retreat on a mesa above the Pacific ocea for patient-oriented holistic medical professionals, our guide invoked the spirit of service that had called us together. She invited us to write prayers for our work. Spirit, voice, mind, heart, hand and service aligned. I trembled as my shy wisdom voice read. I looked up into the shining eyes of those whose arms helped me climb up from the beach the day before. I was whole here. Our guide called a few months later to ask permission to include my poem in a book she was editing. I said yes. You can find “Group” in Wounded Healers, edited by Rachel Naomi Remen.

 - Carol Howard-Wooton

 

Essay #16: Finding Your Voice by Patricia Viscione Young

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In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It it will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

- Patricia Viscione Young

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #7: Finding your Voice

 

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Writing holds me together and always has.  I have said many times, “Don’t wait for the rug to get ripped out from underneath you to find your passions.  When I went through re-invention 101, I’m glad that my passions were in a row, even if my ducks weren’t.” 

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #13: by Pamela Price

It seems like I have always had a voice. The stage was small and dusty in my elementary school auditorium when I approached the microphone for the first time to sing. I was nine and my fellow classmate was a short, dark-haired little guy who was a wiz at the piano. I can clearly see his round face, small hands and endearing smile encouraging me even after all these years. The crowd was maybe 50 people. It felt like a thousand. We performed a stirring rendition of Moon River. When it was over, the audience clapped…very loudly. And I will never forget that feeling.

I always had my music to express myself. I sang for the next 50 years, but I always sang someone else’s words. They were great and inspiring words to be sure but someone else’s words. All the words that were in my head, my words, just stayed there churning in a washing machine cycle that never hit spin.

One day I picked up Laura Munson’s book. I read it from cover to cover and then read it again. This was a voice that spoke to me. This New York Bestselling author actually had a “voice in her head.” She gave the voice a name and listened to it….double wow. Oh my goodness, I was not the only one! I searched the internet. I found her blog. I read about the Haven retreats. I thought….and thought. Could it actually be true that everyone has a writing voice?

It took several years before I convinced myself to call Laura. I just kept thinking about the words “you don’t have to be a writer to attend a retreat, just a seeker.” I identified with the seeker and secretly was excited about the writing. I was ready for a step out of my comfort zone.

My heart was beating so fast, I thought the person sitting next to me could hear it. I thought if it didn’t slow down, it could actually turn into a medical event as I sank into that big sofa in the sunroom at the Haven retreat. I hoped the big pillows would just swallow me.

It was my turn to read what I had written. The room was dead still, no sounds except for that damned pounding in my chest. A room of faces stared at me in anticipation. I read my paragraph and heard an unfamiliar voice. Not a confident, well rehearsed singing voice but a shaky, squeaky voice. A voice that had one thing going for it…it was finally attached to my own words. Words that came from me, from my brain, from my soul and had somehow ended up on that piece of paper in front of me.

I have notebooks with endless pages of words. I have files on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone. I try to write something almost every day even if it is only an email or a note. I practice with words. I read with a highlighter. I am no longer overwhelmed by those thoughts in my head. They are my voice, and I let them tumble onto a page. I read them, throw out some of them and cherish others.

I haven’t decided what to do with all these words but the picture is coming into focus. I find my best self in them, parts of me I didn’t know existed. Some things I like, some things, not so much. I am no longer afraid to write or that  my writing is not worthy. I have found a different voice from my musical one…my own.

- Pamela Price

 

 

Essay #14: Reckoning with Janteløven by Colleen Brennan

Finding my writing voice suggests I had one to begin with. Suggests I lost it. Maybe along a washboard road somewhere. And then found it. Perhaps in the ditch, floating in the run-off after a sudden downpour.

Truth is, every time I sit down at my writing desk I’m in search of that voice. Sometimes it shows up right away, like a pack of bison in the road. Sometimes it dawdles and I have to wade out into the tallgrass prairie to look for it, hoping a rattlesnake doesn’t bite me when I bend over to pick it up.

My ancestors were Norwegian homesteaders who built houses out of buffalograss sod in the Dakotas. When the wind chill is 40 below and you’re tracing the clothesline at night with your mitten to get from the back door to the outhouse, you wanna yell for help. Or at least grumble a little. Uff-da. But you don’t. Because no one will hear you in the deafening wind. And no one will applaud your success in having made it to the “pit” and back. It’s just the way it is. It’s Janteløven, the law of Jante, the principle that you are nothing special, no smarter, no better than the rest of the folks around you. You suck it up and keep going.

With this sort of upbringing, can you see why it might be hard for me to claim a unique writing voice? We weren’t supposed to believe we had a unique anything.

But what I’ve learned from Janteløven is just how much noise there is in silence. There’s a voice there, too. My voice. I was bashful, but I noticed things. Like the tiniest arch in my mother’s left eyebrow when she disapproved. Like the Bing Crosby-ish timbre my dad’s voice took on when he won at cribbage. Or how we didn’t call Harald “Uncle” Harald even though he lived with Aunt Astrid.

I was a little kid the first time I heard my writer’s voice. Slogging up McClelland hill in my plaid sneakers to the empty lot to hunt for agates, I discovered creating dialogue in my head made the hill climbing easier, made being alone less lonely. I spoke in both voices: a brother and sister living in a boxcar. (Oh, yes, I stole those characters from Gertrude Warner’s The Box-Car Children. No doubt I’d just finished reading that story, splayed out on the grass inside a teepee – a blanket thrown over the clothesline, you know what I mean.)

I took to writing in a diary. My first one had a tiny gold lock and key and I kept it in a box in my closet. If I couldn’t talk about my fear that the Abominable Snowman would step on our house and kill all of us, or about my crush on the red-headed boy who lived across the creek, or about how I hoped my piano teacher would fall down the stairs so I didn’t have to play at the recital, at least I could write about it.

It’s tough hanging onto my writing voice. Janteløven hovers close by, whispering stuff like “Just who do you think you are?” And I have to once again wade out into the tallgrass, or grasp onto the clothesline in a blizzard, or trudge up to the empty lot (where I imagine agates lay gleaming below the gravel surface) and retrieve what I lost. But once I have it again, I can stand up to Janteløven and answer truthfully, “I’m a writer with something important to say. Listen up.”

 - Colleen Brennan…website coming soon!

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with a waiting list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #6: Finding your Voice

The truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake. And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.

Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #11: How Writing Helped Me Give Words to the Voices in My Head by Kris D. W. Ferrell

I hear voices, but not the voices that spawn pea soup spewing type movies. No, I hear the voices of squirrels named Alfred, of dogs named Smooch, of Christmas trees name Dougie; I see conversations between paperweights, desks, chairs and robot clocks, I color in vowels and paint in prepositions and dangle participles all over the place to speak my truth. I could tell you more of what it is like to live in my head but it is better to show you.

My story begins with nine strangers in a Montana yoga studio. I am not sure what sort of rift in the universe brought us all to that exact moment in time and space to sit together on the floor and discuss our intentions for attending a retreat at the Haven. Nevertheless, we shared our desires for writing, our intentions for the retreat and our motivation for sitting cross legged 45 years after it went out of style. I said I came to “break the back of my inner critic” and “finish a book” I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month three years earlier. I was determined to move forward at all costs.

Like many attorneys, my novel languished in a file on my computer, the cursor blinking, always blinking, always B-L-I-N-K-I-N-G. It blinks at me even now keeping steady time like a metronome, daring me to delete what I have just written. I pump my fist and say, “damn cursors, you dainty devils delivering distraction and disappointment,” and come back to reality. In five days at the Haven outside the town of Whitefish, Montana, I broke through and found my voice. I also found my aversion to kale runs pathologically deep.

The first day of stretch writing I told myself “go with it” I heard “trust the process” so I squared my shoulders and wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote because the promise was support without criticism. I read my ‘writing’ and for the first time to someone other than my dog and I heard validation, appreciation and acceptance. On the second day, I discovered my process is a lack of process, I shouted “move me, shake me, make me write bad poetry” and produced a poem that made my wife cry when I gave it to her this past Christmas. And on the third day the stone was removed and I emerged flying by the seat of my pants, my shorts hanging out and my hair on fire. I shouted to my middle school English teacher, the one who said I could not write, could not speak, had nothing to say and needed to make sure I sat more ladylike “screw you and your toenail clipped wig collection, yes I can, yes I can, yes I do and screw you and your ladylike bourbon breath, I don’t want a process or to be processed or to be processing or to be you.” I shouted to those nine kindred souls in that yoga studio on the final day, okay I didn’t shout because it is a yoga studio after all, but I did proclaim I write to misbehave!

Now the process sometimes feels stalled and forced and hard and gritty. But the best part is I write to misbehave and misbehaving is hardly ever work for me!

- Kris D.W. Ferrell

 

 

Essay #12: Becoming Reliable by Michelle Roberts

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“Come on. They won’t mind. I just want to show you my cubicle.” I ushered my friend into the building. He’d been the one who took my frantic call and offered me his couch. As if mania allowed for actual rest.

We walked in through the publications department. These were the writers and graphic artists I mingled so easily with compared to my fellow engineers. I stopped at the first desk.

“Shannon! Hi! This is my friend Paul. I lost my virginity to him in college. Funny, I never thought about that. My first middle school crush was a Paul, sex for the first time was with a Paul and then I married a Paul. Huh”, smiling at her as if she shouldn’t be surprised to see me while I was on medical leave.

I don’t remember her reaction or Paul’s. Hate to think of it even now. My memories of those months before and after my hospital stay are disjointed. Manic me is the definition of the unreliable narrator.

When I met with a new therapist years later, I had changed jobs and was managing my bipolar symptoms without medication.

She asked, “What do you do when you’re manic?”

“Well, I’m more social. I go dancing. I write. I paint. I exercise.”

“Do you think maybe mania is your binge on all the things that are missing from your everyday life?”

She was right. Even though there were early signs in high school of hypo-mania and mild depression, it wasn’t until engineering took me away from dance, creative writing and art that my symptoms became severe. When I was manic, I uncaged my creativity like an animal rights activist freeing animals. I let loose and later lived with the shame of the things I said and did. Knowing those were just the things I remembered.

After my hospital stay, I stopped talking or writing about anything personal or meaningful. I was still mortified by my unhealthy voice and didn’t trust myself with what I might say or the emails I might send.

Then, in 2012, I read a Call for Submissions for the Haven Winter Blog Series. The theme was Breaking Points and I finally put that week in the hospital into words. Ten years later, even my closest friends and family had never asked what it was like in a Behavioral Health facility. Most people hope they’ll never know.

I read my submission to my therapist at my next appointment while I was waiting to find out if it would be selected. She was sure that it would. I remember sharing it with my mother over the phone and I cried when I opened the email from Laura Munson confirming it would be posted the following day.

I’d used my most authentic voice to describe the scariest thing I’d ever experienced and it connected with others in ways I hadn’t in a long time. Mania convinced me I was too much for most people to handle. I started to accept that might be a lie.

This past October I attended Haven Writing Retreat. Sharing in a room with other writers, I realized mania was a binge for my voice almost fifteen years too soon. In my early thirties I wasn’t ready to speak from my truth, be heard or bear witness for other truth tellers. Now at forty-five, I understood that being open is healing, if also a little terrifying, and our voices are meant to be heard. This special retreat in Montana is called Haven because it’s a safe place to begin.

- Michelle Roberts

 

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #5: Finding your Voice

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Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats both to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

People often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? 

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice. 

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

Essay #9: Hearing Voices by Christine Watkins Davies

 

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My tea steeps in my favorite mug as I glance at the chaos throughout my home.  I’m too overwhelmed by the half-deconstructed Christmas decorations to make a move toward them.  I prefer to be still, staring at my tea allowing its rich aroma to soothe my thoughts this morning.  Instead of attacking the clutter in my usual “get it done” manner, I decide to write.  There’s much on my mind.

I’ve been thinking about my voice this morning and the multitude of ways in which I’ve used my voice powerfully, and the multitude of ways I’ve used it to keep me safe.

My powerful voice stands in front of groups of people presenting new ideas and concepts to them. My wish is that they leave my presentation with a new practice or idea that could help them live happier, healthier lives.  My safe voice uses the word “spouse” in front of them in order to stay safe.  I don’t always know who is in my audience, and I do not know if they would approve of the fact that I’m married to a woman.  I need to stay safe.  My powerful voice cowers.  She lingers over insignificant details in an effort to thwart too personal a question for this lesbian, yet simultaneously allowing me to look confident.

My powerful voice sings with pride that I was born a woman.  There is nothing I cannot or should not do based on the gender with which I was born.  My safe voice often times stays silent when I hear men make degrading or shaming comments about women in their lives.  “I’m the exclusion” my safe voice tells me.  “I’m sure he wouldn’t say that about me.”  My safe voice tries to comfort me, but my powerful voice knows the truth.

My powerful voice announces to the world that I cherish and respect all religious beliefs and cultures.  “Who am I to judge someone of a differing faith?” my powerful voice projects.  My powerful voice stands with Jewish friends for a public menorah lighting ceremony even with the risk of being in harm’s way.  My safe voice stays silent about the fact that my daughter was born Muslim and that we’ve celebrated her Muslim born name and birth country since the day we adopted her.  “I need to keep her safe in these trying times,” my safe voices whispers as my stomach quivers.

I don’t like my safe voice. It hides my authenticity. It candy coats the details. It buries my pride.

I never thought about the difference in my voice until I began writing.  Writing for me is a way for my safe voice to feel more empowered.  Writing is also a way for me to begin to hear my own voice.  It’s the tool I can use to extravert my thoughts, ideas and feelings out into the world.  Finding my voice in the woods of Montana at a Haven Writing Retreat has given me the permission I needed to hear to stand boldly in my authenticity and share my voice with the world.  To model for my clients, my friends, my family, and mostly my daughter what it looks and feels like to stand in my integrity.  What it feels like to be heard.

I still listen to my safe voice.  Oftentimes, there’s wisdom in her whispers.  But, I’m learning to ask myself if her words are there to keep me safe…or simply keep me small.  There’s more wisdom in this awareness than in her conformity.

Right now, I’m listening to my powerful voice.  I better finish my tea and get these Christmas decorations packed away.

- Christine Watkins Davies  (website Coming Soon!)

 

 

Essay #10: The Voice Effect by Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

 

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“Finding your voice,” or my voice, or anyone’s voice, is a well-worn phrase, a little like “be your best self,” “on a journey,” and “impact.” Everything has a big impact, from a new puppy to your toenail polish. What happened to a big effect or consequence? And everything seems to impact everything else, from a snowstorm to a rodeo. What happened to affect? Worse yet, some things are “impactful.”

After the presidential election last November, my distraught 9-year-old granddaughter asked, on the car ride to hula class, “But what can I do?”

Her mother answered, steady at the wheel, “There might come a time when you can be the voice for someone who needs you.”

Her 6-year-old sister piped up from the back seat, “And Mama doesn’t mean a person who can’t talk. She means people who maybe can’t stand up for themselves.”

I was reminded to get my nose out of the air and think about that stifled or hushed or emerging voice that someone brave is developing. It was time to get over myself and let others be their best selves or begin a journey or find the movie impactful.

When my husband of 32 years left, I lost half of a good part of me. I lost the one I returned home to and told stories of the day. I told him about the woman on the train who asked a stranger to escort her two-year-old to Sacramento while she got off in Portland. I lost the one I told about my 7-year-old student whose father sat on her mother on Mother’s Day. “And he’s BIG,” Shayla told me. “My mom ran out of breath.”

I missed the daily exchange, and in its place, I began to email my adult daughters in distant places. “I should like to tell you about trapping four mice in the kitchen in the last week and forgetting the trap in the oven before I turned it to 350 to bake lasagna.”

My voice took hold on paper, but I knew I wasn’t “good enough” to be a real writer. I can’t compare to painting in poetry like Mary Oliver. I don’t create characters like Carol Bly or Alice Munro, and I have no idea how to build suspense like Stephen King. Who would want to read my words when they have countless rewarding authors?

My daughters were so responsive to my weekly reports, however, that I wrote successive ones. By the time I completed 15 pieces, I was signed up for Haven I.

As I prepared to leave Haven the following September, I jumped off the swing with the long arc that overlooks a pond floating in geese. I was dragging my feet at leaving this sanctuary in tamarack and pine. When my ride arrived, spitting gravel in the driveway, I turned to thank Laura again for an extraordinary experience. She responded, “You’re a very good storyteller.”

There was a smile in my voice as I said, “I’ll be back.” The next week, I signed up for Haven II.

 

- Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

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Finding Your Voice: The 2017 Haven Winter Blog Series

 

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  Were we told from a very young age that we should be seen but not heard, or that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, or act like a show off?  Or that we should only speak when we were spoken to?  When we expressed ourselves in a way that didn’t fit the mold, were we punished?  Were our mouths washed out with soap…maybe even just for saying the word “no?” or “why?” Maybe we endured verbal or physical abuse over our words from the very beginning and so we learned to keep them inside of us and maybe they have never felt safe in the world ever since.  Maybe we’ve learned how “to be a parrot just to cite a silly rule,” in the words of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Maybe our words were considered inconvenient for the people around us, or even dangerous, and they deemed us their enemy, making it their full focus to destroy our words and the integrity around them.  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Writing Retreat alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

p.s.  As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

Haven Writing Retreats 2017 Schedule

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreatgo to the Contact Us button here.

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What I Learned From My Personal Writing Retreat

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Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

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

 

That I can go for hours and not speak and don’t miss it at all (and that comes from someone who makes a living speaking).

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start talking to me in my dreams.

That when I’m this tuned in to my characters, they start telling the story, even when I don’t want them to take the direction they want to go.  Best to trust them.

That taking a walk on a personal writing retreat, with nothing else on your mind (family, kids, friends, career, bills, taxes) means that you are writing as you wander.  And when you get back to your book, you have much to transcribe.

Same with eating.

Same with bathing.

That I can write in a noisy café, even though I live in the silence of Montana.  There are no distractions when you are deeply into your material.  Even when they’re renovating a Victorian across the alley.

That even if you have support for your writing from your loved ones and colleagues…no one is going to do this for you.  No one is going to give you this time, pay for it, kick you out the door.  And if you actually have someone like that in your life, it’s still you and your book wherever you go.  You have choices in that space.  Make good ones.  (Ie: stay away from buttons unless they are on your computer, in your book document)

That the voice in my head which helps me make those choices is kind.  When I’m at home, that voice is not necessarily kind.  It’s usually frustrated and short on temper and so it often sounds more like a football coach.  In this solitary, suspended, writing space…she is loving and gentle.  She says things like, “You can do this.  Good for you.  Open your heart.  Tune into your intuition.  You know where this book needs to go.”  I’m going to bring her home with me.

That I get a lot of exercise and eat really great food when I’m in this space.  At home I often don’t get any exercise at all, besides chopping vegetables, stirring, sweeping, making bag lunches, doing dishes, and folding laundry.  And I often forget to eat.  I’m going to bring this regime back home too.

That lollygagging in bookstores looking at coffee table books on artists, and going to art house indie matinees are things that I’ve stopped doing and they feed me profoundly.  They are not just folly.  And what’s wrong with a little folly anyway?  Especially folly that feeds your muse.  TV does not feed my muse.  Reading the newspaper does not feed my muse.  Watching Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van” does.

That this isn’t scary at all, this being alone with my muse and my book and its characters and plot.  That I know exactly how to do this.  That I’m not lonely in the least.  That I honor and love my writing practice and it honors and loves me.  That my creative well is deep and the water is life-sustaining.  That tea is a gentle friend for this sort of experience.  And the Bach Cello Suites.  And Krishna Das.  And Gregorian Chant.  Same with Frankincense essential oil.  And baths with lavender.  And a small notebook and good ink pen that you leave by your bed, and keep in your purse.

That it’s okay to be in a major urban wonderland, and not see sites, friends, go to the newest trendy restaurant, the best show or exhibit, or to frankly leave the three blocks where you are staying.  That all you need for this specific purpose, is faith.  It’s not really about the writing, is it.  If I said it’s about channeling the Divine, would that be too lofty?  So what.  It is.  And sometimes we have to leave home to do just that.  I’d like to bring that home with me too.  We’ll see…

…Thank you, San Francisco.  Homing back to Montana….letter_pen

 

 

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Haven Winter Blog Contest Winner

I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our Haven winter blog series, I loved reading about the transformation that happens when we open our hearts to it. I’d also like to announce the winner of the series, who will receive a discount to a future Haven retreat: Sarah Hunter! Thank you so much for your words, Sarah. Click here to read what she had to say about her experience.

I’ll be offering a special Haven retreat at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, MT between April 29 and May 3, please email me at laura@lauramunsonauthor.com for more information.

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Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015
              “I write in a solitude born out of community.”                                                   -Terry Tempest Williams

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles.  These 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.  This is what can happen when people gather to write in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a mediation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.  I will keep doing this work until I answer the question 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?”  Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no method to find your voice.  Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language.  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.  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, consider giving yourself this unstoppable experience.

Here is a piece that was born on the second day of our most recent Haven Retreat.

By Laura Probert  

“Write that down! Write that down! No really, write it down right now,” our brave teacher says, her prone, mermaid-like position on the floor filling me with delight. Her hearty laughter, triggered by one woman’s story of pocketed, dirty underwear, and other “holy, mundane” things, as Laura calls them…is the music that plays in the background of my heaven. Heaven sits in the way my bean bag lounging seat-mate briefly grabs my forearm and looks at me with her excited “OMG, me too!” smile.

If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, in Montana, in a place tucked away between towering mountain peaks, a frozen lake where a beaver I haven’t seen yet makes his home, and the calming Southern drawls of my classmates. “I like simple poems. Poems that cut to the heart,” I hear and I whip my head around to see if Laura is shooting a laser beam of ESP into my temple. Does she know I think my poems are too simple, too dumb for other people to enjoy?

“I love that part where you…” another Haven participant continues in a soft, kind tone that adds to the symphony of other women’s voices in the room. We all nod and smile and nod, everyone in a melodic unison of recognition, leaving the courageous reader with hopefully very little doubt…we get it, we love it, please, rip our hearts out. Make us feel fiercely alive again. Do that thing you are already doing. Give us more!

I am in heaven here. This place. These women. These women gathered together by a gently desperate but increasingly bolder longing to know that what they have to say matters. That their passion is worth pursuing in this particular form of art. To know that they are loved for who they are. I sit deep in this comfy chair, buzzing with recognition. “This is where you belong,” I hear an angel’s voice. It must be an angel, because this must be heaven.  Heaven, because I have permission to say it like it is.

When I mine my life for gold, I realize the treasure is in the too raw, too real, too emotional, too ugly moments that make up my life. These women beg, “Show me your ugly!” They demand I tear the bandage off my wounds to air them out. They help me know why I must be me.

Laura’s encouraged us to be to be the perfectly obsessed, Target-shopping, fine messes that we are. Dirty underwear in our pockets, grief strewn across our swords and hospital gowns, we are warriors. Bring it on. Bring on your stories. Make me feel human. Make me feel alive. Make me feel loved, for me. Sprinkle me with the pink and purple glitter of your genuine, cut-to-the-chase, heart-felt, raw, naked, bloody, sobbing, painful to the point you don’t know if you will be able to speak it through the gripping ache in your chest stuff. Yeah. That stuff.

I am in heaven here. The invitation to speak taunts Martha, my fear voice, the one I named after reading a thoughtful book about love and happiness that my fearless mentor wrote. Martha squirms, uncomfortable with the idea of this party. “Nobody wants to hear your stuff.” “You’ll sound like you are bragging.” “You aren’t good enough.” The heaven sits in the way I wake up and shut that s*** down faster today, not willing to pass up this glorious opportunity for expression and acceptance. Not willing to be the wall flower at my own party one more f***ing time.

This heaven forces me to feel my life, to question it. To ask the big-ass questions. To quell the things Martha says.  That this is a hobby.  That I am nothing.  That I am not good enough.  Ping, ping, ping, ping. I feel the jabs, the shriveling. At Haven, I remember to live in the big questions instead, alive and awake to this noise that litters my playground. I get back on the swing and pump my legs until I am out of breath, until I feel the wind wash out my heart and clean up the mess my mind left.

This place. These women. This art. This magic…was meant for me. This matters. My stories matter. This heaven is a carrot that has been dangling in front of my face my whole life, waiting for me to sink my teeth into its crunchy, flavorful, nourishing, love-filled flesh. Waiting for me to eat it up and lick my lips and reach in for another bite.

My mother calls and asks me how the retreat is going.  I start sobbing, but force myself to cry-talk out the words, “I am in heaven here.  These women have softened my pain, acknowledged my heart and made me feel worthy.” This is where I belong.

 

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Haven Winter Series #9

ForwardEvery winter I do a writing series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme, this post is the last in the series. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.
The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What?

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)

June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info
.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker… 

Haven on Earth
by Sasha Woods 

Have you ever known you were meant to be, or do, something, and put it off, because you didn’t know where to start, much less how to start? Where would it lead you anyway?

I’ve always loved writing and at an early age, aspired to become a writer, when, in the fourth grade, I wrote a story entitled Timothy the Mouse, and filled an entire composition book with his adventures. In the eighth grade, I was called out of class and into the hallway by my English teacher who thought I had plagiarized a story.  The same thing happened after I turned in a poem I had written.

In college, I would have majored in English, had it not been for the thoroughly dismal, absurdly boring, dry-toast sort-of-a-professor,  whose class I would have needed for the major. Barely making it to the break, I ran out of the room, across the quad, down the steps to the “Precambrian Basement”, and declared myself a Geology Major instead.  My hopes were to become the next John McPhee, but somehow life has a way of leading you along a different path and you temporarily misplace those dreams, substituting them for other dreams, sometimes even for other people.

Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who didn’t fall for the trappings of love and security, and forged your own path, or maybe you were like me, who fell for all of it, only to find yourself many years later, looking at the big 5-O hovering on your doorstep, three beautiful children and one ugly divorce later, wanting to rediscover your dream. Having told your children they could do, or be, anything they wanted in life, and the only way of accomplishing it, was to be true to themselves, and listen to their inner voice, they were doing just as you taught them.

That’s where I was last April when I read Laura Munson’s email about having an opening in one of her Haven retreats in Cabo. At the time, I felt as if I were doing just the opposite of what I had told my children. They were the ones living life to the fullest. They were the ones being true to themselves.

So, with a valid passport, notebook and pen in hand, I headed south, away from frigid, grey Chicago days, and into the tropical bliss that is Mexico. Unsure if I could write anything more entertaining than a business letter, I began. Thoughts began to unwind their way across the page. With Laura’s guidance, my inner/sitting-on-my-shoulder critic, began to sit back and drink in the scenery, leaving me alone long enough to record my mind’s meanderings, sometimes soaring high above the canyon, other times deep within it. I waited, and I wrote, no judgment, only acceptance, only love.

I returned, transformed, more confident in my written voice, still somewhat timid in my actual voice. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and yet, my practice once again began to diminish. Packing, unpacking, laundry, graduations, work, business letters, dishes, life, started intruding into my Haven, my Utopia, and my practice ebbed a little further. There were never enough hours in a day, and yet I knew I had to write, but I didn’t, though I continued to tell myself I would, soon.

Fifty came upon me in September, and I had planned to hike part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, at the end of October. In preparation, I walked as much as I could, knowing I had some pretty major obstacles (knees, feet, toe nails) to either overcome, or embrace.

While I didn’t exactly embrace the obstacles, instead, I created a blog, and though warned by my infinitely wise nephew, not to be so “plugged in” whilst on the Camino, I wrote, almost everyday, and the writing (along with some pretty intense prayer), is what pulled me through. I traveled all the way to Spain, walked 7-8 hours a day for roughly 9 days, only to discover that there are enough hours in a day, and that life can be set aside for 30-60 minutes to do something you truly enjoy, and that others truly enjoy as well, at least that’s what my blog readers told me.

SO NOW WHAT?
by Carolyn Hopper

I gave myself the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat. So. Now. What?

The aroma of spiced words, the glow of firelight, the kiss of mist rising off the lake at dawn are embedded in the sweater I wore for the entire retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch. I sink my nose in the cream nap of its wool. One sharp inhale. Another. Panic sinks in. No words rise. Only the laughter of 10 women dancing around the hearth.

I had counted on my senses staying sharp to help me coax words for the “next”? while I drove along the highway beside Flathead Lake on my journey home. But edges, like the riffles on a wind-whipped lake surface, have a way of softening.

I had counted the words and mists and warmth of the fire, I believed embedded in me at Retreat to stay sharp. Those edges too, softened. Oh, I dabbled into my almost finished story like a mallard probing the lake bottom for juicy morsels. I found a few, bland, like cream sauce. Studied Laura’s notes on the pages I had sent ahead for editing. My notes after our one-on-one. I did feel inspired and fired up for a few…weeks. But October turned golden. I basked in the glow and shimmer of aspen leaves as they flicked their leaves like castanets. Cottonwoods were ablaze in topaz and copper. I printed out my story so I could give it a good read. It gathered dust.

Until Thanksgiving. And turkey enchiladas molé. When this writer woke up. To bare trees sweeping the waxing moon like exotic brooms and winter blooms in a crazy seesaw of freeze and thaw. One day my teeth are on edge and the next I can’t stop imagining how my story, a braided complex of my mother and I during the last year and a half of her life, could end.

And I begin to imagine how the shape of the spy novel that I set aside three years ago might find new life.

Nuts  roast, spices toast, chilés soak. In all there are twenty-six ingredients from the onions that stung my eyes to the sweetness of raisins that mix and mingle and are then stirred with great care over a low flame My mouth waters at the memory of the preparation and day-after-Thanksgiving meal. I had no idea that a traditional Mexican dish served to this white woman from New England could be a catalyst more powerful than a kiss for awakening a sleeping writer!

The instructions for preparing a molé are, of course, not the same as preparing my story. But attention to detail, creating a evocative sense of “this is where I want to bring my reader”, and a willingness to let the ingredients blend and surprise, are for me!

So. Now. What?

Shedding my shoes before the burning bush. A willingness to probe my heart for the bold woman who began the story of her mother and herself with more grit than confidence! Resolving to take my own advice when asked by women who have stories worth telling but haven’t found the pen or pencil to write them down—“dive in!”  

And after the fire? Reaching for the gold coins that lie at the bottom of the well.

You Gave Yourself a Haven Retreat:  So Now What.
by Michele McShane

My first retreat, ever.  I responded to the call of going to Montana for a writer’s retreat last October out of pure serendipity.  Maybe a truer statement is that it was one-hundred-percent pure nagging… by the Universe.

Laura Munson was the guest on Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Hay House Radio show.  The topic was interesting to me, but I needed groceries and headed off to the store.  When I came back, barreling into the house with too many bags, Laura was in the middle of telling the story of how the Haven Retreat started.  I remember what I heard caught my attention, but “life” was demanding that I attend to more of it.  I slammed my MacBook shut.  Work needed to be done.  Something or another.  I wasn’t even to going to continue writing my novel.  Later that evening, I opened my laptop, and unbelievably, Laura’s interview was still running in my cache.  Christiane was saying something along the lines of “You thought there should be a retreat that wasn’t simply about critiquing, but one that allows writer’s space to open up their voices and you did it.”  Even though I liked what I was hearing, I was more than a little annoyed that technology was not letting me off the hook.  Laura’s comments were tough to dismiss.  I don’t remember her particular comments as much as the power in her voice when speaking about writers and the need for space in which their words could simply fill the airwaves and be heard without commentary.  Universe calling or not, I was exhausted, closed the lid, and fell sound asleep.  Son of a bitch, the next morning, I opened the little Pro and, yes, the interview started to play right where it left off.  Now, I may be slow in reading signs, but this was indisputable, full on Las Vegas neon style.  The retreat was not going to be denied, even if I hadn’t even asked the question.   So, now you have some idea about how I roll.  Needless to say, I signed up that day.

The time spent with the group was simply fantastic, extremely valuable and it stoked a million thoughts about what I was doing and what I had thought I should be doing to become a bona fide professional writer.  The questions since then have been more important than any answers I may think I have.  So now what? 

The best part of this “so now what” phase has been that as a result of the Haven Retreat, I have experienced a new sense of what writing actually means to me.  I write because I am alive when I write.  Time is no longer relevant to the equation. Writing puts me in the present, whether real or fictional.  Seeing my imagination morph from an intangible, formless notion into a character with definition, meaning, a life and a family, gives my life dimension and is enough.  It is not so much about “end product” anymore.  The things I write ultimately change the way I think and not vice versa.  The process is the changer.

Since the Haven Retreat, I am happy writing a few paragraphs, thinking of a character’s habit or spending five minutes scribbling down lines in answer to a prompt.  This may not sound earthshattering to you, but it is a lot more than you may think.  I am continually reminded of Nora Ephron’s quote, “The hardest thing about writing is writing.”  It is so true.   These tiny, seemingly insignificant actions are writing.  They contribute tremendously to deepening my writer’s voice.  For me, that is “what” for now.  And, I have Laura Munson to thank for that.

 

 

 

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