Tag Archives: writing retreats

Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Now booking the fall 2018 Haven Writing Retreats! 

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

September 19-23 (FULL)

September 26-30 (one spot left)

October 24-28 (two spots left)

Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Come wander in your wonder with me this February in Morocco! To learn more, click here!

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Haven 4:00 a.m.– Dealing with Meanies

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!  The best holiday gift I can imagine…

April 18-22 (full)
May 16-20 (full)
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

There’s a big difference between taking a stand for yourself, and playing hard ball.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I can’t stop thinking about it.  One is a fight.  One isn’t.  They both originate from someone wanting something of you that crosses a line.  And it’s usually something hard to face.  For me, it all arrives in my email inbox.

I try hard not to look at my email inbox first thing in the morning.  Or Facebook.  I try to wake slowly, to let the morning give itself to me.  Then tea, back in bed.  Some reading.  Usually poetry.  Nothing too close to the way life behaves in a typical day, unless its Sunday.  I want my early mornings to feel like all of Sunday feels.  Reflective. Paused.  Soft.  And then…the assault.

I go down to my office for it.  I sit at my mothership computer.  I often feel the urge to fasten a seatbelt across my lap.  A few times, I’ve reached for one.  I wiggle the mouse.  The screen light glares at me.  I try not to prepare for battle.  Maybe there’ll be something nice in there.  Someone will want to come on my writing retreat.  Someone else might have read something I’ve written and taken the time to thank me.  Those are always nice.  I answer every single one of them, just to honor gratitude.  Or maybe there’s a note from an editor who wants to publish something I’ve written.  Those are the best ones.  Well, except for the ones from my kids when they just want to say that they love me and there’s no mention of money.

But every day…there’s always something in there that scares me.  At the very least, triggers cause for concern.  A late bill, a compromised account, a wasband ordeal, a rejection from an editor, another octogenarian from my hometown passed, funding for the arts denied—that stuff.  And let’s not even bring up the news.  I’ve stopped watching.  But I don’t have to solve those problems.  The ones in my email inbox:  yes.

I feel myself bracing.  Conjuring steely reserve.  I think of what I’ve learned from therapists along the way:  Use “I” statements.  Write the angry note first.  Then delete it.  I take my own advice:  No need to fight.  Simply say what you need to say—the rest is not your problem.  Or consider the source.  Take responsibility where necessary.  Don’t over-apologize.  Be clear, succinct, to the point.  Tangents or too much explaining are not your friends right now.  You’re not writing a novel.  And please, calm your inner persuader.  She’s so exhausting for everyone, yourself included.

And there it all is, the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with Flash Sales for things I’d never buy and eblasts from people I’ve never heard of, and reminders to attend cultural events in cities hundreds of miles away.  Delete delete delete…answer all the goodies…until what’s left is a honed stack of bad bones. Second cup of tea.  Maybe a smoothie, though heat feels more helpful.  I get the basic bad done first.  And then it’s time for the mean ones.  For those, I think of Gandalf raising his sword.  Don’t you have at least one or two meanies in your life?  I try not to, but some of them are unavoidable.  Sometimes I’m there for hours, composing those short little to-the-point emails just so.  Stakes are high.  Pushing Send too soon could cost me in more ways than one.

My goal:  to take a stand.  I tried playing hard ball a few times.  It was the most inauthentic thing I’ve ever done.  And I suck at it.  Truth is, hard ball isn’t necessary.  Hard ball hurts the pitcher and the batter.  I’ve watched a lot of baseball games.  But here’s the thing:  in most of those mean emails…the author wants me to take a good swing.  And miss.  I’ve learned not to swing.  Yet in most cases, some sort of answer is required.  You owe them none of your emotional supply…and still, the emotions are high and sometimes as unruly as they are untethered.

So here’s my new way, and it works:

I write it like it could be published in the local newspaper.  Facts only.  Journalistic, not Op-Ed.  I take a stand for what needs to be supported.  And then I leave the game.  I know I did it right if I don’t hear back.  I know I did it right if it doesn’t wake me up at 4:00 a.m. feeling like I have to save a burning orphanage full of children—a reoccurring dream of mine.  No thanks.  Taking a stand is holding up a hand and saying, “Enough.  Solution: ______.  Here’s what I know to be the bottom line.”  And yes, sometimes, you have to ramp that stand up.  Stand really tall and draw that line in concrete.  You have to dust off that sword and say, “You shall not pass!”  But it doesn’t have to take you down with it.  Thanks, Gandalf for being willing to fall into the fiery pit.  We don’t have to follow you.  I’d rather have another cup of tea.  And go for a walk in the snow.Forward

 

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The Junk Drawer Cleanse

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Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!  The best holiday gift I can imagine…

February 28-4 (a few spaces left)
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 24-28

In a pre-holiday purge this week, I dumped out my junk drawer.  It’s the little one in the kitchen by the stove where I put things that don’t belong anywhere in particular.  I only open this drawer to put things in it for later.  For later.  What is this mighty later?  From the story the contents of this drawer told me, the later lives despite these parts and pieces of our past.  And this past shrapnel just collects like lint until every single bit of what has been tumbled out of our lives becomes a throw-away…except what matters most.  So why even keep a drawer like this in the first place?

I stared at that pile of random stuff and I was frozen.  My son is going to college this year, and my nest is imminently empty.  It felt like every single one of those items needed to go back in that drawer by the stove, or my life would somehow be…as un-storied as it will be un-peopled.  If I put all of those pieces of our past into their appropriate places and got rid of the items that had no use at all, (like the god-knows-how-old lone Advil Liquid Gel), I would render the drawer empty. What would go in there now as I move into this later?  This unknown next chapter of my life.

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The Color of Wonder: Stop Expecting. Start Receiving.

loveI remember the first time it happened.  I was five and we were at Disneyworld and there it was:  Cinderella’s castle, right in front of me! The towering glistening lavender place where dreams were made.  I broke free from my parents’ hands, and I ran into what was sure to be the most enchanted, world of wonder ever!  The Magic Kingdom was going to deliver me my first slice of real magic.  But wait!  What’s this tunnel?  I’m on the other side of the castle!  Where are the crystal chandeliers and the marble ballrooms and the gold ceilings and the mice-turned-coachmen?  The whole thing was a Disney-spun ruse!  If castles were fake, then maybe princesses were too.  But what about dreams?  Was Jiminy Cricket full of it?

The next time it happened was in New York City.  Broadway!  I was ten and my parents were taking me to Annie.  I’d memorized every word of it.  Annie was a dreamer.  She believed in infinite possibility– that she…she was special enough to have all her dreams come true.  Seeing her live would mean that I could believe that too.  And the voice of those dreams:  Andrea McCardle.  She was my hero.  I was going to be Annie one day.  Somehow.  I wanted to be the deliverer of that supreme message.  Andrea had a cold that day.  Understudy.  But I did see Patti Lupone in Evita.  I didn’t cry for Argentina.  I was too young to get it.  I wanted to dream about Tomorrow with a raspy redhead.  But more and more, dreaming seemed like a gamble.  And judging by the bit parts I got in the community theater shows, maybe being a Broadway actress wasn’t quite it.

Then in 1983, I went to see the movie Flashdance.  That angsty dancer in leg-warmers was me!  (Proverbially speaking– pigeon-toed kids with scoliosis probably wouldn’t have flash-dancing in their future.)  But the rest of it?  Yes, please!  I would live in a loft like that and do whatever it took, weld even, to go after my dream.  So what if dreaming was a gamble?  It was worth it.  I just wasn’t sure yet what dream I should dream, and I knew that I had better figure it out fast.  When these words came, they slayed me:  “If you lose your dream, you’re dead.”  Not me.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Whatever it was, I was going to dream a big one, even if the castles were fake and heroes got colds and you had to live in Pittsburgh.  I was not going to die that death.  But if not acting…then what?  I started to dig deeply into spirituality.  Seemed that the Divine would have some answers.

In 1987, I took trains through a Yugoslavia on the brink of revolution, to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  I was obsessed with ceramic tiles and I was told that exact color blue existed nowhere but there…and that it was one of the most sacred, inspiring places on earth.  I ascended those steps, ready to cover my head and slip off my shoes to behold this ancient sacred blue and yes, dreamy, place.  The mosque was closed.  Renovation.  We didn’t have the internet so who knew anything prior to anything back then?  I was crushed.  Was I looking in all the wrong places?  I spent the afternoon sitting on the ground next to the mosque, writing in my journal, and what came out appeared a lot like what you’d find in the pages of a novel about a young woman with undreamed dreams.  I looked up into the minarets, not unlike Cinderella’s castle, and thought:  Maybe I could write books.  Yes.  Books.  I’d found it.  And it wasn’t blue or red.  It was the color of Wonder in the written word.

The same year, I went to the Sistine Chapel to see the Creation of Adam.  I wanted to see what God’s finger looked like when He pointed to humanity and breathed it to life, still more soul than flesh.  That surely must be what it took to be a writer—on both sides of those fingers– the constant act of co-creating with the Divine.  That’s what I would spend my life trying to accomplish.  I would wander in this wonder, and I would use words to do it.  There it was again:  ristrutturazione.  Renovation.  Scaffolding.  Over one panel.  That one.  But I bought a postcard of God’s finger almost touching Adam’s.  Still have it.  It lives under my keyboard, where I write.  It’s getting a little ratty, but it still breathes life into my muse, I like to think.

Skip ahead a few more years, and along came the children.  I did everything I could to pass this wonder gene to them, in whatever form I could.  Disney had failed me, so I figured nature was a good place to start.  Our life in Montana served up wonder over and over and they received it, so we took it on the road.  We went camping in Patagonia, Arizona, to see the Elegant Trogon bird.  Each of us with our day packs and binoculars, and me with my Sibleys, we stalked through the forests slowly, all day.  Saw a lot of people looking for the Elegant Trogon bird.  But no Elegant Trogons.  The next year, we went to Belize to see Howler monkeys, looked up at breakfast and there were eight Elegant Trogons perched in the tree above us.  We didn’t see Howler monkeys.  But we heard them.  Family joke goes:   If you want birds, look for monkeys.  Works every time.  My kids were well on their wonder-ful way.  They knew that the expectation wasn’t the end game.  The wonder was.

But when it came to the girl at the Blue Mosque, things were getting dire.  She hadn’t had the kind of publishing success she’d coveted.  In short, she’d sung a lot of Tomorrows, and had learned all about crying for her inner Argentina.  Book after book.  Rejection after rejection.  And the postcard wasn’t working.  My muse was under renovation.  I was losing steam.  My dreams hurt, deeply, and wonder hurt worse:  Should I just give up?  Weren’t dreamers owed anything?  Were there not only no promises, but were dreams actually bad for us?  Did dreams need to die after all?  I wanted them to live!  I wanted to sing my song on the page and have it land in hearts and yes…take my bow!  Was Flashdance just another ruse?  In short, I was bereft.  But there was one moment when I felt that finger pointing at me, saying No.  Never.  Not you.6e5bfbb430043970037181278e86c52a

It was that same year in Belize, and I was in a little art gallery on Ambergris Key.  I walked around that art gallery thinking, Maybe I need a new image to put under my keyboard.  And then I looked down.  There was a print of what looked like a marble Greek goddess with wings, holding her skirts apart, revealing the words Breathe.  Believe.  Receive.  It’s all happening.  I bought the print.  Hung it on my wall by my bed, this time, so I could see it in plain light.  I looked at it every morning and every night for years, and I spoke those words aloud.  And I kept writing books.  I breathed.  I believed.  I received.  I received the joy of creating and let go of where my writing landed.  I received the breath and breathed it back and deemed that the ultimate life:  doing the work.  That was all I could control.  Whatever this “it” was that was “happening”…was a mystery, and the part I could understand was the part where I sat down and wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  But this time…surrendered.

And then…”it” all happened.  Five years later, that girl who wanted to be Annie, got her version of “it.”  But the “it” was very different than it was all those years ago.  The “it” was what I brought to my writing desk every day, even though now the publishing world brought that “it” to the hearts and minds of people around the world.  And for that “it” I will be eternally grateful.  But even if they hadn’t…I still have my “it.”  My dream is in the doing. That’s the color of wonder I paint with every day, and that’s what breathes my muse alive.

Just don’t tell that girl sitting at the Blue Mosque how long it will take.  Or she might stop.  But do tell her that she would have made a terrible Annie.  Some dreams are better left as just that.

Do you want to wander in your wonder with words?  I am now booking my fall 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Come to Montana and receive…

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

 

 

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Mentoring Muses

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If you want to see pure passion in action, click here!

KATE’S GO FUND ME DRIVE IS A SMASHING SUCCESS!  THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED!  Now for Haven to hold her muse!

Do you ever meet a young person and think:

That’s me. Decades ago. I can see their heart and their passion and the very real struggle ahead of them. And I know an excellent cure!

And then you reflect on your life:

It took me until now to find it– it took me years and years of brutal searching and suffering. If only they would do this one thing NOW, instead of wait…  How can I save them that long slog? How can I watch them struggle when I know there’s a solution right in front of them? And why does it have to come down to money?

Years ago, I served as a local judge for a national student’s writing contest here in Whitefish, Montana. Year after year,  from elementary school to middle school, and finally high school…there was one writer whose work leapt off the page and into my heart. The authors’ names were kept secret, but I couldn’t help but open her entry, read a few sentences, and think, I bet that’s her again. I can hear her voice. It’s growing and getting better. Good for her! As much as I considered all of the entrants, she was the winner. She had to be. She was that good.

I yearned to mentor her, yet I had to remain anonymous. Still I’d go to the award ceremonies and privately cheer her on, just to see her in body, not only muse. She truly shone– a town golden girl. Eventually, I heard that she’d been one of the rare ones who’d gone off to the Ivies back East. They, I’m sure, courted and cajoled her, and I wondered if she’d forget about her writing once she got to the land of such spit and shine. I knew full well what that life inspires. I’d lived it. And I’d left it because I knew that if I stayed in that world, I’d never be true to my muse. And I’d probably never be successful by society’s standards, either. Still…I had to heed the call, and to do so, I headed west– found myself in the very town she’d eventually launch from. Mostly, I wondered if she’d forget her muse and her Montana and give herself to all of those brass rings.

And then one night this spring, I went to our local Whitefish Review launch to hear one of my favorite all time writers (and friend) David James Duncan speak, walked in to the venue, and there on a stool, reading with poise and passion…was…

Kate:
…I met author Laura Munson, officially, at Casey’s Bar in Whitefish, Montana several weeks ago. We were at a release party for The Whitefish Review, a reputable journal based in Whitefish. I’d been accepted for publication and was reading part of my story. After shakily sharing my words with the crowd, Laura embraced me. “I’ve read your work since the beginning,” she said. She’d been the secret judge of all of those writing contests, the ones I entered every year as a child. “Here you are.”

There I was. After the reading, Laura and I kept in touch. She shared her story. She validated mine. Her Haven retreats, nationally known and highly respected, emerge from her own story of the pursuit of words, one that feels similar to mine. Laura herself gave up the hallmarks of the east, the shininess of ambition, to come to Whitefish and write. Her retreats scrutinize what is powerful; they encourage conviction. They work mindfully and rigorously through the art of retreating within, and telling a story, and sharing one’s particular voice.

When she suggested that I attend her retreat in June, I felt honored. I felt once again, for the thousandth time, that curious emotion of surprise: “If I was still in New York….”  I said I would come.  But I had no idea how…

Laura:  

It was true.  Kate had stopped writing.  And then the shininess became un-shiny, and after enduring an abusive relationship, she bravely returned to her roots, this time in another small, vibrant Montana town.  I am thrilled to say that she is writing her first book about…you guessed it:  Montana.  Needless to say…I want her at Haven.  It is exactly what she needs.  I know it the way I knew her muse all those years ago.  Haven would be the very thing to set her up emotionally, psychologically, craft-wise, and project-wise to have the writing support, mentorship, and community that she deserves.  I am holding a space for her in June, but it comes down to cost.  The Haven Foundation has given her a substantial scholarship, and now she needs help raising the rest of her tuition.  No one likes to ask for money, and she is the last one to even consider it.  I have encouraged her to start a crowd-funding campaign on Go Fund Me.  Please…if you have ever looked a young person in the eyes and thought…I am she/he…consider donating whatever feels right, to her cause.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, (and Kate’s too),

Laura

To donate to Kate’s fund, click here!

To donate to future scholarship funds for Haven Writing Retreat attendees, contact Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

The Haven Writing Retreat 2017 Schedule:

June 7-11 (one space left)
June 21-25 (one space left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info, and to set up a call with the Haven Team, click here!

Also, I’d like to use this page as a forum in the comments section:  if there is any young person you know who is raising funds for their dreams to come true, add them there, and hopefully we can be the village to help our next generation bloom into their wildest dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning How to Ask (and receive)

If you’ve wondered what is behind the scenes at a Haven Writing Retreat…watch this video:

What Haven is all about.  Click Here to watch video!

Click here to watch the video!

A word on learning how to ask for what you need… (as featured on Thrive Global)

You hear this message in different word arrangements from different wisdom spinners, including your grandmother:  what goes around comes around, succor life and it will succor you, practice right actionbe of service.  I come from Midwestern farm stock and I’ve been grandmothered into this message from the beginning, as stalwart and straight forward as a row of corn.  I watched my mother and father live by it, and I paid attention.  But it wasn’t until my fourth decade that I realized that it was actually driving the essence of who I am.

It happened one day, a very bad day, when my world was being met with rejection on every front—marriage, career, teens…  And I sat in my office staring at a blank screen, thinking, Why do I do this writing thing with such devotion and fervor, and for so many years?  Nobody asked me to do it.  It’s financially counter-intuitive.  And it’s damn hard!  And out of my fingers poured these words:  “I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others.”  There it was:  Service.  Service to others.  And service to myself.  Huh.  My career started approximately 24 hours later.

You see, that one line was the defining moment when I held the mirror up to my heart, my intention, my intuition, my passion—everything that drove me…and staked my claim on it all.  This is what I’m made of, and why I can continue my writing life, regardless of promises.  That was my service to self:  getting perfectly clear about what makes me tick.  And so it makes sense that in only five years, I was not just writing out of service from my little office in Montana, but actually sharing what had held my muse with hundreds of people in my neck of the woods.  People from all over the world, coming here, to work with me, and be of service to their muses.  And yes, consequently, to others, in community, and with all laud and honor to the written word.  The ripples of have been the most life-affirming endeavor I’ve known outside of motherhood.  And this branch of my career has stabilized my life and brought with it great richness, and opportunities.  But there were a few missing pieces in my business that required help.  Big help.  Help I had no idea how to ask for.  So I didn’t.

One thing that my grandmother would never have said to me, or modeled, or urged me to sew into my modus operandi, was ask and you shall receive That one was skipped over.  You didn’t ask.  You served.  And you didn’t serve to get anything back.  You served because that was the right thing to do.  Period.  Sure, giving the shirt off your back had its perks.  Someone might do something nice for you, and you’d receive that gracefully and with the appropriate card stock and your best cursive.  But ask?  Uh-uh.

So here’s what happened:  Anyone who has a business these days knows they should have a website, and what’s the most powerful tool on that website?  A really great professional video that nails what your business is all about.  Fawning, swooning, oozing testimonials don’t hurt.  But it’s the moving, speaking, feeling humans that tell the story of what it is that you do…that really seals the deal.  Everyone told me:  “You need a video.  A really good one.  Professional.  With drones and stuff.”  The problem was:  I lead very intimate, private, gatherings of seekers who do my retreats and workshops to leave the world of moving and shaking and being on the hot seat or in the fish bowl, very deliberately behind.  And bringing a videographer into the equation felt incongruent with the safe haven I promise.  In fact, it’s called Haven Writing Retreats.  I try to be only of service to my clients.  To ask nothing of them other than to put their hearts in their hands, check whatever currency they possess outside of their ability to be honest, kind, supportive, and wildly creative…at the door.  I don’t ask them to fill out evaluations at the end.  There’s no gift shop.  No T-shirt.  No mug.  No incentivized marketing scheme.  If anything, I’m chasing them out the door with writing prompts!  But man…it was true…a video would really help me get the word out, both as a service to those whose lives  could be changed by this experience, and to me too, as a business woman.  It’s a lot of work to find the right 100 people a year to come to Montana for this deep, reflective experience, and I knew that a powerful video would be a great tool to build those bridges.  But ethically…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then something happened that has changed my faith in the world.  I was sitting at the dinner table with my February 2017 Haven group.  It was my advanced Haven II program for alums of the retreat, (for which you don’t have to be a writer to attend), who are now dedicated to finishing books, soon, and with the support of my Haven method and the group.  It was the last night.  We’d dug deep, we were all as tired as we were alive with new breath and new beating hearts.  They were talking so eloquently about their experience, and about the future, a reunion, how they were going to fight for it all, especially each other’s books.  And they were saying things like “How can we help you, Laura?”  

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Even though I fought it, tears broke from my eyes and slid down my cheeks, and I hoped they wouldn’t see it in the candlelight.  But they did.  I confessed.  But I did not ask.  I spoke to my needs.  “I need Haven.  For my own writing.  And I can’t find anything like it anywhere.”  And then these words slipped out:  “And I need a way for people to know just what this program is all about.”

The next day, there came a surprise.  The women had talked.  “We’ve all agreed that you need a professional video.  We’re filming it tomorrow morning instead of you taking us out for breakfast.  We’ll eat before.  We’re giving testimonials.  You’re getting interviewed.  It’s our gift.” 

Everything in me wanted to say noI can’t.  Thank you…but…

“And we also want you to come to our reunion.  Not as the teacher.  But as one of us.  We’ll teach each other using the Haven method.  And you’ll get to receive what you’ve created!” 

I looked into each of their eyes to see if there was any reserve from any of them.  They were all beaming and nodding.  And suddenly I was too. 

Haven Writing RetreatsIn a symphony I could never have orchestrated, one of the attendees made a phone call, and the next morning she showed up with two videographers who’d driven two and a half hours in a snowstorm.  They set up professional lights and cameras on tripods.  All I had to do was straighten a few pillows and put a little make up on.  And the rest of them arrived, smiling and beaming.  I could go on and on about the blessing of that day.  The gratitude circle that one of them suggested—the way each of them honored each other, one by one, sharing words of thanks.  How they each offered testimonials and discussed what makes Haven so special.  I have never been more speechless, more touched, more grateful.

Thanks to these loving women!

Thanks to these loving women!

And here’s the thing:  I didn’t have to ask.  Instead, I watched service whip around the woods of Montana and land in the palms of my grateful hands.  Thank you to everyone who has shared their Haven experience over the years with others, and especially to these incredible angels at my table.  Ripple on! 

Please watch the video at the top of this post, and if you like what you see, please share with anyone you know who is looking for their voice, loves the written word, who has a book project in them, or simply needs to reclaim the heart of who they are…in the woods of Montana.  Sometimes…you do need to ask.  I’m trying to learn how.

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats

June 7-11 (a few spots left)
June 21-25 (one spot left)
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

Film credits to Thomas Kurdy and his Ndigena video production

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The Melt. Are you listening?

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As winter melts, let’s listen to its last messages of sacred stillness. For it is in silence that our voices are born, fledge, and take wing.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11 (still spaces)

June 21-25 (still spaces)

September 6-10, 20-24

October 4-8, 18-22

I feel invisible in winter.  Every year, I steep myself in the varying greys, and even with a bright orange scarf…I feel like the palest grey.  I’m speaking of my internal landscape.  It is penury and I like it that way.  Northwest Montana matches my mood– sonata after sonata of greys from October to April—sometimes panorama, sometimes stuck in treetops.  But with the exception of the here-and-there sapphire skies, the blanket of snow I sleep under is a stark white-grey against the steel-grey sky.  Where I tap my keys, solo with accompaniment:  she is always my muse.  Always.  And no, it is not depressing.  Not if you need to be very very quiet for a while, and I do, if I am going to hear what it is that I am to understand and say when the world wakes up.  Even the Netherlands for the holidays matched my winter mood, only there it was in countryside mud walks and slick streets along the canals of Amsterdam.  Still grey.

I went this winter of 2017 with purpose, and it was with this purpose that I did this parsing.  What makes a person visible?  Knowable?  Seen not for the orange scarf, but for the woman wearing it, under the frozen bedsheets?  I wanted to know what this question of voice really means.  I spend so much time talking about how writing can help you find your voice.  But what does that really mean?  Because I don’t mean soap box.  Have you ever been on a soap box?  It feels good for about two seconds.  But it also doesn’t feel good watching someone on a soap box and thinking that you’d never have the guts nor the words to ascend one.  If we don’t listen in sacred solitude, how are we to hear behind the lies that say:  I don’t have anything to say that’s important.  Even if I had something to say, someone probably already said it better than I ever could.  Who am I to take that stage anyway?  It’s self-indulgent at best.

15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_nI live in an almost mute life in Montana in winter.  Unless I am leading Haven Writing Retreats or doing a speaking engagement, I’m quiet.  Writing.  Watching snow fall in swirling fury one minute, and then flake by floating flake.  Sun peeks.  Shies.  Retreats.  Raven flies by.  Chickadee and deer and squirrel prove themselves Bad Ass.  Icicles form, drip, break.  I see it through my window—the ozure dogwood, the only red. The Doug fir and larch the only green.  Except my dirty truck.  Which I leave in the driveway unless I am out of almost everything.  There is always something in the pantry.  I want to stay invisible.  I have thinking to do.  Writing to do.  Quiet to learn.  Restlessness to remind, because stillness is a better boss.  Because…I have learned…that stillness is where the true voice lives.  Like the frogs who will soon fill the marsh with mating cacophony.  Real voice comes from quietude.  Prelude.  Sonata.

It’s over now.  The ice dams are crashing off the roof.  There is gravel showing in the tire ruts.  I heard a red-winged blackbird yesterday.  I saw a V of Canada geese too.  Today the first robin pecked at stiff stink bugs on my roof.  The deer and chickadees tell them tales of stillness and staying and yes, penury, unimpressed with stories of migration and color, juicy bugs and monkeys.  My orange scarf will soon enough become kindred and invisible, next to wild honeysuckle, poppies, climbing ragosas.

And I ask:  Did I listen well?  Was I quiet enough?  Did I sleep or sleep walk?  Will I get wooed by all the waking?  The color?  The voices of spring that aren’t my own?

Because now is the time for greening and saying.

What is it that you have to say?

Listen to what’s left of the grey, as it melts.  It is speaking to you.

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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!

 

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