Laura Munson Intro
If we look at outside forces to give us permission to belong, then we're never going to feel like we belong. So how about you just decide that you belong wherever you go. To me what what my favorite word of all is empathy. And if you can climb into empathy, then you really do belong anywhere you go.
Arielle: I have the gift of speaking with New York Times bestselling author Laura Munson in February, a week before the paperback version of her novel, Willa’s Grove came out. We will link to all things Laura in the show notes, but this is one of my all-time favorite conversations. Because Laura has an incredible way with words that feels so nurturing and nourishing to me, and I hope that this conversation feeds your soul as it did mine. At the end, Laura mentions a weekly free journal writing practice she was offering but is no longer offering. But we will share the links to all that she does offer and highly recommend subscribing to her newsletter so you can get a regular dose of her wisdom.
Arielle: Welcome Laura Munson. I am so excited to have you on the podcast thank you so much for doing this all the way from Montana.
Laura: I cannot wait to hear what illuminating words come out of our mouths because when we merge minds great things happen so thanks was only me to be on your podcast.
Arielle: Well I have to say we were talking a little bit before we hit record and I agree that just meeting you and our conversations over the past less than a year have just been so inspiring and helpful just to get through the strange time because I think both you and I are people and we love connecting and I think some of the hardness of this time has been that being able to do them in the same way we can thank you for showing up and being yourself so authentically and actually where I want to start I think is from I read your latest newsletter yesterday and I'm going to read this little part of it that just made me literally laugh out loud. So, is it weird for me to read to you your own words?
Laura: No it not but I this is one of those pieces that you write for yourself and then you're like you know what, even though it's sort of incriminating and people are going to worry that I need to go to a wellness retreat I bet there are people out there who are experiencing what I'm experiencing this last year so I put it out there and I've gotten great responses but I have had two people reach out and say you know I've got the name of a really good healer
Arielle: Okay, it just made me laugh because I feel like one of the things, I love about your writing is it just is so real and you're giving us like the inside inner monologue that you have going on like unfiltered, so I don't even know if you're gonna be surprised about the product that I selected that really got me ha-ha.
Last week, making tea Earl Grey feel like I'm having an affair with Earl Grey is the most exciting person in my life. Except for my dogs, I feed and lock them more than I see and lock myself because they take me times more of a long running around in the snowy woods of Montana behind my house. Come back from Big Five Star outing with the dogs eat the other half of yesterday's almost black banana. Less exciting. Go back to bed. I love her over it's when I start my day with two and today I didn't so it feels off. So anyway, I just love that passage.
You have vulnerability hangovers like all the time?
Laura: That's a great question. Do I have vulnerability hangovers? You know, it's funny. So, on the other side of the wall from where I'm sitting currently in my dining room to Montana, is my office closet. And in that closet, there are about 24 unpublished books. And some of them are you the good news about five of them are good, but they represent my adult life, which is devoted fully to writing and mothering. And some other things too. But I say writing is a practice my prayer, and meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life.
And so, most of those books are novels because to me, fiction is distilled reality. It's like realer than real. And I've never considered myself that interesting of a subject. About 13, 14, 15 years ago, I went through a marital crisis, and I wrote my way through it, both in a journal, but I also thought, you know, I'm working with this concept of not emotionally suffering because of great rejection but finding liberation during a time of great rejection by tuning into the way my mind works. Okay, long winded answer. So, I wrote a memoir for the first time ever, and I had never started as me, you know, me being the main character in any of my long form stuff, I had written a few personal essays. And so, I'm kind of glad about that, Arielle, because I think that if I had started off writing memoir, I might have gotten very stuck, which is what most of my clients feel they feel stuck. And when they come to me, I hopefully help them use writing to get unstuck.
So, I don't have that vulnerability hangover. Because I think I started writing, not long form nonfiction and more short form nonfiction. After I'd already done a lot of hard and personal work. So now it just feels cathartic. And it's not like an info bomb, or like I'm, you know, just like vomiting all over the page. So, you first get processed, and it's crafted. And I also tell people, you know, that's why it's important to have a journal because nobody needs to read your journal.
Arielle: Absolutely. And so, one of the things everyone is saying, you should know is I thrive on spontaneity and realness, and authentic conversation. So, I never tell people ahead of time, you know, what we're going to talk about beyond just a very vague notion. So, I don't give people questions ahead of time. But this podcast is centered around the same themes that are in my documentary series belonging in the USA stories from our neighbors. And I really love Well, first, Laura and I grew up in a similar place, the North Shore of Chicago, and then we both sort of branched out to different parts of the country. And I think place, we've talked a lot about place. And so, I want to ask you, what does that phrase belonging in the USA evoke for you?
Laura: Well, the word belonging is a huge word in my life. And in fact, it's funny, of course, you would bring this up. I was just last night, you know, lying on the couch, with Stephen Colbert on pause, because I had this epiphany that, you know, I was feeling like, wow, after almost 30 years living in Montana. I think I finally feel like I belong here. And I was really looking at my resistance to belonging here, which I experienced for years now I've raised two children here, one of them is currently living here with her boyfriend and a best friend and her boyfriend because he wants to live in San Francisco right now, when they can work remotely live-in whitefish, Montana, ski every day and make San Francisco wages. So, she very much feels that she belongs here. In fact, she's working for a local PR company that does the PR for Whitefish, Montana, which is, you know, the town next to Glacier National Park. We're a small mountain community, but a lot of people come through here every year to experiences beauty. And I was thinking more about belonging and that I thought, you know, growing up on the North Shore of Chicago, just like my daughter, my son, I mean, that was home, right?
So, when I was young, I felt that I belong there. I felt that I belonged in Chicago, my mom grew up in Delaware. In Chicago, she used to play field hockey, where the john Hancock building is now and um, you know, but I, at a certain point, I felt that I didn't belong there either. And then I moved to Seattle, and I didn't know anyone there and sort of reinvented myself and I last night, I thought, it's just time to give yourself permission to belong in the world, to be a citizen of the world and to create belonging wherever you are. Whether it's sitting next to somebody in a park bench, you know, and not being able to speak their language, but being able to speak heart language, with gesture and the look in your eyes. And so, I think it's just a decision to belong. And that's why I love I love your documentary series. I love the idea of what is belonging. I think it's a decision.
Arielle: Yes, I do, too. And I think, but I think it's something that we don't necessarily talk about enough, but also that we confuse with other ideas that aren't belonging, like, like, you know, we like fitting in or like going along with things or like the sort of “should” versus the truly “feltness” have a sense of something. So, I love what you're saying, because if it's a choice, then it's not something that somebody can give to you. That's right. That's something external, it's not something that you have to, or..
Laura: Yes right. It's not, it's not and I always use with the word belonging, I use the word longing part, in part because it sorts of rhymes, but longing to belong is something that I think is very central to the human experience. And you’re I believe, I think that's the Epiphany I had last night was that, you know, I had it backwards that and I know this, I teach this, I write about this, but I think that my relationship with belonging is very much from the outside in versus the inside out, I belong in my home, because I, it's my home, it's my creation. But if we look at outside forces to give us permission to belong, then we're never going to feel like we belong. You know, even with a whole the generations of family living around you, you might sit there at the Thanksgiving dinner table and feel like you don't belong at all. So how about you just decide that you belong, wherever you go, we are to me with what my favorite word of all is empathy. And if you can climb into empathy, then you really do belong anywhere you go.
Arielle: Amen. And, you know, I was just made me think of the fact that so when I, you know, I think that I put out this phrase belong in the USA, and I've had a Facebook page and all that. And I occasionally will just get people from, you know, all over the world, that will just write to me to just say, hi. And I'm like, oh, because there is this, we've almost sold this concept that the American Dream is too long here, right? Like, people from all over the world want to come here. And you know, and then sometimes when you're here, you're like, what is it that they want about this place? It's not, there's so much, you know, it's not so great, right? And there's so much that is so great, but it's a complicated thing, like any place any construct any country culture. But I always I love when I get those messages, because it always reminds me of that longing, versus longing. I mean, people spend years of their lives and lotteries in other countries to try to get there. And so, yes, there's like the sort of mythical stature of the USA. But then I think, like you're saying, there's also just this inner space of, I could be anywhere, and I could belong to wherever that is, and I could be anywhere I could feel I don't belong. So it is that decision to own your own belongings.
Laura: But my throw in because I know you're bilingual, and you've traveled quite a bit. And boy, I, I miss travel so much, I have all sorts of places I can't wait to visit. My kids are grown and flown pretty much and so. But I was thinking also last night, about the year I lived in Italy. And I chose Italy because I had never taken one second of Italian. And I wanted to go someplace where I couldn't speak because talking is the way in many ways. And as a writer, that's another way that I think of process life. And as a 20-year-old woman, I knew that I wanted to belong to my wonder, like questions. I'd read a lot of Rocha and Letters to a Young Poet, I'd read over and repeatedly, and he talks about loving the questions and let it go the answers. And so, I think that year in Italy, living with a family that didn't speak any English, and not being able to communicate, really helped me to understand the idea of what it is to belong to human experience. Because cooking in the kitchen with the Nona and the Mama, I would blow off school just to go to the market and go shopping with a non because I mean it was such an education. And it was all about just belonging to the conversation.
That is the human experience we need to eat we need to nourish ourselves we are cooking is such a beautiful way to learn how to belong. And I was so confident that year. I think that's interesting when I didn't have the usual triggers. You know, North Shore girl in Chicago needs to look a certain way needs to get certain kinds of grades and went to New England prep school. I mean there was a lot of pressure to get into certain kind in private, privatized communities and all of that, that year in Italy, it was just me and the Renaissance and a whole lot of pasta.
Arielle: Well, this, this is a perfect segway to the next question, which is what is freedom? How do you define it that way?
Laura: You don't mess around Arielle. That doesn't surprise me. What is freedom? I think freedom is freedom from our thoughts. In fact, in my book, this is not the story. You think it is the memoir, it's a New York Times bestselling book. And I must believe that the reason why it landed in so many people's hearts all around the world, it was published in nine countries, it was also an international bestselling book, The short version of it went weirdly viral in the modern love column. I think it's because the whole book was a very mundane portrait of a woman learning about how her thought patterns most serve her and sabotage her. And I have been working with rejection in you know, because I'm a writer, so that's par for the course lots of rejection in the writing world. And you know, you get these form letters that say, this does not meet our needs currently. And very quickly, that inner critic who I call the inner critter, it comes in and says you're not good enough for somebody else did it better than you or you're you know, you're you don't have any talent or Who do you think you are and self-indulgent, investigate and think it's something you have to say, would be publishable?
Arielle: Yeah, that Oh, do you think you are a big one for me?
Laura: Who do you think you are right? I have over 1000 alumnus of my different haven writing programs that I lead out here in Montana, they're going to resume this fall. I know, I believe that that will happen. And so, to me, I've really been a student of how our minds sabotage us. And so, to me that the word freedom of course, you know, there's physical freedom, but I've always thought it was my goal would be to feel free in a jail cell. And how do we do that? How can we be like Mandela and pray for our, you know, captors, it's, our mind is the biggest captor there is. So, when we can learn how had to be aware of that and make a choice. Again, there's the decision of whether we want to be ruled by what is very often a very cruel voice, many of us wouldn't treat our worst enemies, the way we treat ourselves in our own minds, when we can learn to become aware of that and shed that, that's when we can move forward in our lives in freedom now, am I good at it, sometimes I'm really good at it. Because I truly see the suffering that my own mind brings me. And that's when those epiphanies come like last night on the couch. But sometimes I'm really, really lost in it. And I forget, I'm reading the untethered soul. And I don't read a lot of self-help books. But that book is, I'm reading it very slowly. And it's helpful. And it's all about this. Finding just he speaks a language that to me, does feel like pop and spirituality. And yet it's not predominantly spiritual. It's simply it he's speaking truth.
Arielle: And it's Cool that having tethered that word, that's a form of another way to say freedom, right? And, I mean, for me, I think, yes, I agree, the biggest aha that I ever had was to just not believe my own thoughts. And I spend a lot of time reminding myself that when I'm having thoughts that are not serving me, when I'm, you know, going down, just really, you know, I think any person any human, as part of the human experience to is just to, you know, deal with our own minds. And yet, the best experiences I've had, are when I just cannot even press pause, but I and sometimes happens to me, you know, in a creative expression, that sometimes happens for me, it's like that flow state, when I have transcended my own judgments about myself, and I am, I mean, I think we've talked about this, I am a judge, you judge or kind of person, I may not seem like it. But I am I'm very critical. And I just I grew up in a critical household, and a lot of burden on my chart. I am an ENFJ So like, there's a lot of ways in which I can just, but I'm much harder on myself than on anyone else, right? And I think I spend a lot more time and empathy and trying to be to extend that olive branch or to understand people so that I don't judge them all the time. But then it just often backlashes on me. So, the reason I asked you that question now that I did was because when you were talking about Italy, what I felt was the sense of expansiveness and freedom, and that's what I have found so much traveling in the world. And so, we're these days, especially given the context of what you wrote yesterday.
Where do you feel free these days?
Transcript for Laura Munson: Our Next Neighbor
Laura: Do I feel free these days? So, a year ago, I was planning on being on the road for two straight months, I 30. events, from coast to coast and in between, I started the whole thing on March 2, which was my pub date for my novel Willa’s Grove, which, like I said earlier is my dream, to have a novel published to not start as the main character, I worked on that book for eight years 19 draft, two of them started back at the beginning, like, rip the whole thing up and start all over again. It was inspired by eight to nine years of leading my writing retreats and wanted to capture the power of people coming together community and the magic that ensues, I was so excited to start a movement I was out there I was kind of hate this phrase, but I was the epitome of leaned in. And I was in New York City, all over Westchester, all through all over New Jersey. And then I was all over Boston, leading workshops. And then I was all over Chicago, hometown, lots, lots of events.
And then I was in Minneapolis, I did my last event. And I woke up on the 13th on my way to San Francisco, and I was going to go to Portland, and Seattle and Denver, etc. And I realized that, you know, Seattle, San Francisco shut down Seattle was about to shut down Portland was thinking about it. And I just realized that I needed to stop and go home, and buy beans and rice and toilet paper, like everybody else on the planet and hole up, get my kids home. So, I guess the freedom that I have found in this last year is not is letting go of a big huge dream. and allowing myself to take the pause that I didn't want to admit that I needed to take, but that I dearly needed to. And I found poignant, radical freedom in just wandering the rooms of this house, wandering around in the woods of Montana, and receiving all the gifts of that pause. I think that's a freedom that I hope I never forget. Because now the paperback version comes out this March 2 next week, and I am doing a bunch of virtual stuff. But from where I sit right now in my dining room. And you know what, as much as I miss the energy of people and being in cities and all the fun of being an extrovert in the city and the connection, I think it's really good for me and I hope I hope we all learn this lesson that there is great freedom in pausing and really taking a look at your life and seeing what again serves you and how you get in your own way. And most of us are in our own way a lot. So, if we can get out of it, there's freedom in that
Arielle: The way you dance with language to Steven as you speak by the way and so I think it's one of the things that's hardest for a lot of people especially maybe creative people is saying no to opportunities. And so, like that, you know because we just think that we just want to present ourselves and put ourselves out there and even if we don't want to, we must and so it's like this constant more and more and more of the excitement of sharing your gifts, right? But there is a toll to that. And I think you and I talked about I mean I was so burnt out at the end of 2019 that I had already decided to pause and stop for 2020 so I must also say when I was when you were talking that weirdness of it being Friday the 13th right when everything stopped last year just that I love that.
Laura: It was Friday the 13th, and it was a full moon.
Arielle: Yeah, it was everything. It was the weirdest day of the world.
Laura: I was sitting in the Delta lounge just looking at the window thinking I just I don't know what I was I was weeping and, but you know that it's almost like after a wedding or something it's like when you've been so invested in something and you're you realize how braced you were.
Arielle: Because you must be armed even when you're facing crowds of people or like just the vulnerability of sharing your something you've worked on for night like an almost a decade there's an armoring that must happen even if you're also open-hearted right like it's both because you can't do it otherwise you wouldn't be just knocked down all the time.
Laura: And that's why a lot of creatives break down on the road because we have to be highly we are highly sensitive people we have to be in order to create and then to ask us to go out on the road and you know without any kind of armor it's it can be brutal I've learned how to do this and I because with the first books because it started me as the main character I mean I was going on Good Morning America like big huge shows and been asked a lot of personal questions. So, I learned how to protect myself but still be myself. But you know, I mean, everybody's creative, right? Like I mean we get to choose whether We put earrings on or what you know, every word that comes out of our mouth is an act of creation. To me, the most powerful question I can imagine is what can I create? And that's something that there's freedom in that too.
What can I create?
So, I think that's something I love. I love that there were Victory Gardens. You know, I feel like growing up, we'd go to Evanston. We had some friends who lived in Evanston. He's also in the North Shore. And the houses are much closer together and they all have little back a lot of my little backyards. And you know, during World War Two those, they converted all that into gardens. You know, World War One, World War Two, and people have understood the power of a seed. I came back here, people were buying toilet paper on like, I had t shirts, I don't like I'm buying, go to the hardware store, and I'm buying seeds, and just that new consciousness of making sourdough starter, you know that that became such a, like a fad. In the last year. I love that that will be.
Arielle: Basic. It's like back to basics of just seeing a person, what do we need? I had a great veggie garden. My husband built like 30 raised beds, we had so many vegetables. I didn't do the bread thing yet, but I just maybe I will one day. I think that there's something that you said about just being like, what am I going to create? But I like to talk about what I used to teach improv. And one of the things I love to say about improv is everything unless you like, know what's going to happen everywhere in your life, like life is all one big improv. It's one big improvisation. Nobody has a script. Hopefully, nobody knows what's going next.
And it's not The Truman Show. And so how do you show up, we are always creating something we're always creating, whether we are conscious of it or not. So, I hope that in listening to conversations like this, or reading your books, or you know, watching my films, when people start to see a sense of who I have some more autonomy, and I have more choice, and I have more. I'm not a victim always of my circumstances, right? It can feel like that. But even in the circumstance, you get to show up a certain way you get to decide what you're wearing, what glass you choose for your water in the morning. I mean, it can be very basic, but there is always some opportunity to decide.
And I think it's just that conscious creativity that you and I are both like, we could just really geek out on too because it's so powerful. And it is so freeing, because I think if I have answered the question about belonging, I haven't said it this way. But I'm just thinking of it know it would have to do with, I feel the greatest sense of belonging, probably one, making something, and it could be a meal, but it could be, you know, just really flowing in a song. And I'm writing because I'm writing a lot of stuff. I've started writing a lot of songs this year.
Laura: That's what I tell my, my clients, it's, you know, there's a phrase that we use a lot, find your voice, what does that even mean? To me, I've watched a lot of people get unstuck through these different programs and the power of writing. And I say writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness. That's how much of a tool I know it is.
And I've watched people get unstuck on these retreats in these different programs. And what I'm seeing is exactly what you're talking about is that there's these there's flow, they lose track of time, there'll be like, oh my God, we got to write for 20 minutes, and then I'll be like, Okay, you got 30 more seconds and what, it just got started. And I think nothing is easy, right? Because usually the things that propel us to create are things that come from pain, right, or scarring, wounding any kind of trauma. But when we find when we lose track of time, when we are in that act of creation, and it's with ease, that we find that flow, that's when you are in your voice. And even if it's painful, it can be playful. And I think that's the power of what I love about improv.
Arielle: Is that improv rule?
Laura: Yes. And I teach that in Haven, it's the same thing with your writing, instead of saying no, but resisting putting up walls instead, it's okay, I have that thought. It's uncomfortable, I'm going to honor it. And I'm going to say yes to it and build on it. And that's when the world of creation becomes highly free.
Arielle: Yes. And yes, and I've been you know, also writing a lot of I write out every day, but I've been writing something that says whenever I don't know if it'll be its maybe the book, I'm writing the book that somebody will talk about the array before you write the actual book. But in reading it, there's so much resistance on the page, like, but I'm writing through it. So, I'm writing about the resistance, but then usually will lead me towards something different because I'm acknowledging it and I'm allowing space for it, and it's not stopping me from writing.
And I also noticed that when I have the biggest resistance, and it's true for my films, too, that often is just that little hump over which there's some magic happening right over there that I've been a little bit terrified of are very tough. And then once I like it's like being at the top of the hill, the roller coaster, I don't like roller coasters, I am not a risk taker in that way. My risks that I take are, I guess the creative ones or the human ones, the interpersonal ones.
Laura: Yes. And you're so it's exactly true that it's that thing that it's like you're tiptoeing around, it's like that wrap that you're you can kind of smell, but you don't want to because who does, but so Arielle kindly agreed to read be one of the beta readers for a book on writing about self-expression. And her notes are so helpful, I haven't even told you this.
Arielle, your notes are so helpful that your, your book, the manuscript that you edited with your notes has become my master that I'm working off. And she picked up on some of those places where I was tiptoeing around something that I didn't want to see. And that's what a good editor does, that's what I do for other people. But that's why it's so important once you feel confident enough to at least, or if you can find some people that you really trust with whatever it is that you've created, and, and give it to them with good boundaries, you know, because you're steering the ship as the creator, this is what I'm looking for, and choose people who you can trust, then they'll be able to see those holes.
And Arielle, you might not have even known that you did this. But you open a huge part of what was missing in that book. And that is that I have we're talking about talking right now. That's one of the things we've been talking and that I was saying earlier that I think in talk I talk even when I'm alone, I talk.
Arielle: External processing, here an extended.
Laura: Thing. But what I haven't expressed in that book, and I'm working on it for about five years, it's very dense. It's just all about creative self-expression. And I realized that what I was tiptoeing around was that there's shame, I have a lot of shame about talking.
Arielle: Talking too much, soldier and I, that is one of our bonds here.
Laura: I won't do, and I wrote I wrote earlier when I wrote, you were talking and I was thinking, I wrote, I am a talker, and I feel bad about it. And I think I might start the whole book there.
Arielle: I love that. And I love found and discovered that I don't know if I told you the story, I had I was teaching improv in Boulder to these adults through the continuing education in Boulder County. Can I have the student I had taken them all out, we went out I like to have the group bond after a few weeks, we'd gone out to like a restaurant after the class. And so, you're on this table, I was having a great time this woman and apparently, she had a brain injury, and she was a little off.
She basically whispers to me, you know, sometimes you just go on and on and on, you don't get to the point. And I wish she would just get to the point. It like Gandhi was really, it was a theme of my therapy for quite a long time. And I had to, you know, recognize all the other people who all the other students who have written me from that class have just been like this, too. I had one other student with a brain injury, who was like this literally completely opened my world again. And, you know, the opposite all the good feedback, I got, nope, ignored that stuff on that one woman. And it took me like, at least a year. And I was like, I can't teach that. And I can't teach anymore. I can't, I can't put myself in that position. I just was so wounded.
And I know that I talk sometimes in circles that seem to make no connection. But I always find the point. And I feel like the people, my kindred spirits, I love that you call me kindred spirit when we first talked, or the people who stick with me to get to there because I think there's always beauty at the other side. And we and we witness each other in this way that allows that, you know, the creations to come through us. I think conversation is an art as well. And speaking is an art and being able to be bold enough and brave enough to externally process right to speak the things, the unformed thoughts, the baby birds. And when you were talking, I was thinking about the songs I've been writing. I've been writing posts for as long I've been recording on my phone voice memos, well just start singing and the lyrics will come. And I had this incredible teacher, she's way younger than me. And I feel like I can like give her these baby bird songs. And she helps me turn them into something bigger than I could have imagined.
And she doesn't let me kind of like maybe to thank you for what you said. Maybe what I'm doing with what I did with reading your manuscript. She is not letting me just put them in a drawer, right? It's not gonna I'm not gonna say oh, I wrote that. I don't care. I'm never gonna sing that again. There's something that's going to come from it through us through our collaboration, because I think that's a huge part of the creative process in life. We must collaborate; we must be connected. And one of the things in your book that really resonated with me was the way that neighbor is such a big part of the story, literal neighbors. And I guess I wanted to ask you to live where you live? How much of that neighbor relationship is fiction? And how much is based on your own experiences of how neighbors show up for one another or not? in your town?
Laura: It's such a great question I just talk to you all day long.
Arielle: I want to.
Laura: Okay, so neighbors. So, I'll just do a quick synopsis of the book for your readers. So, the book is about a woman about four women who come together, each facing a major crossroads, hopefully relatable Crossroad’s moment in their lives, to answer the invitation, which is sent by the protagonist, Willa, the begins you are invited to the rest of your life. And each of these four women has become isolated, out of shame, or guilt or fear, because of this Crossroads moment in their life. And I think that happens for so many people.
And before COVID, I was out there on the road, like I said, and people where I was doing a poll across the country, raise your hand if you're in a So now, what moment right now? And every I mean, no, no, no, raise your hand, if you've ever been in one, of course, everybody raises their hand, that's human experience, transition Crossroad’s moments. And then raise your hand if you're in one right now or someone you know, because I didn't want people to feel like they had to expose themselves and 75% of the room and raise their hand. And I asked people to keep your hand up and look around to see how much transition reinvention all of this is in our collective.
And then I asked people to shout out or to speak to what those what those Crossroads moments are in the collective, whether they're happening to you or someone you know. And the top three had something to do with career, something to do with interpersonal, probably a partner or a spouse, and something to do with parenting. We choose all three of those things. We don't choose a friend dying of cancer, we don't choose illness, we don't choose taking care of a parent with dementia, those are the other three. But we do choose whether we want to have children. We do choose our careers. And we do choose our partners or spouses. And so, when those things go up, go south or a amuck or wrong with however you want to look at it, when they're when there's trouble, we often will isolate because we're afraid of the judgment around it. And enter shame, debilitating shame. So, I wanted to capture what might be possible if we came together in community in a very safe way. So, the way that the women in Willa’s Grove do it is that Willa reaches out to one friend who's also in a major crossroads. That friend reaches out to a friend and then that third one reaches out to a fourth, and then they all convene. And my goal is that once we can be together again, that will start a movement of these, these breaks these pauses in our lives. We've just taken a major one, it's not over yet. But okay, so your question is that neighbors, so they, these four women are very different from one another, but they are very relatable conflicts.
And, and they get to get so they become each other's neighbor, neighbors in the book, and it's primarily about them. And I just cannot speak even strongly enough to the power of people coming together and sharing their stories. And that's what they do. They tell their stories, what was supposed to happen, what happened so that they can support each other and figuring out so now what comes next. So that's the community within the larger community. The larger community is a town of 34 people that Willa and her recently deceased husband. Basically, brought together because of living in rule. In the rural West, we often become very disenfranchised from one another, and we need each other. And, you know, we need our neighbors everywhere we live, but out here, you know, people can go for like people need their, their medication or oxygen or they've got I mean, my I had a huge pipe broke last week, and it was raining my kitchen and it was 22 below. And you know, I live on 20 acres, all my neighbors have 20 acres, but you can bet that the first thing I did was call my neighbors, you know, and they were over here in one second. Now what's interesting in Willa’s Grove is that because Willa finds that she doesn't have any money, which is a big surprise to her.
After her husband's sudden death. She must auction off the town. And that's part of why she is isolated out of shame because she was the Maven of the cornerstone. They were the ones that created the community and brought people out of the woods and into a town a community where they could be neighbors. And one of the questions I get a lot about the book is why in the town is shunning her and people ask that question, why are the neighbors being. So hostile toward Willa and I did I never thought about it until I kept getting that question over and over. And I think the reason why is that people take each other very personally, in a in a rural town where we depend on each other so much. I think that translates into any kind of neighbor situation. But we need each other, we need community. And one of the quotes in the book that one of the characters says is it's something like, we are all fluent in the language of community. And yet, we so rarely speak it. It really is our mother tongue. And so, I think that, while we're also isolated at this time, I hope that when we when we come out of it, we will, we will understand the power of our neighbors. And again, there are neighbors or people sitting next to us on airplanes, park benches, and steps of cathedrals, too, but we need to be accountable to one another. And one of the things I love about Montana and rule living and why I've been here almost 30 years is that the currency around here is not what's in your bank account. It's very much of us, us. And the currency is accountability.
And asking for help. And showing up and not having a be like, look at my beautiful casserole, and how great Am I that I brought it to you it's my neighbor needs food. And I'm, I'll close this neighbor dissertation in the middle of the middle of a pandemic. I mean, in the quarantine, I went down to my mailbox, all our mailboxes are next to each other and a little row. And my mailbox was full of candy. And it was so one of the neighbor kids just was like we need candy, I guess and just put it in there. You know, and just there was just always something in the mailbox that somebody was putting in there just like I make Arnica sab because there's Arnica that goes all around in the woods. And I just put that in there. And, you know, like, now we got tons of snow. I know, Chicago did too. And somebody just plowed half of the whole neighborhood drive. And nobody's asking for credit or money. It's just random acts of human neighborly kindness.
Arielle: Beautiful surprises that you're giving gifts that you're giving to each other. That's Oh, I love that I love Mom, I have a longing for that sort of community. I realized last year before the pandemic, that hit me hard of just really wanting a community like that. So, I'm on the, I'm on the hunt. And I think because I think you can create that. But I also think like anything communal, that has mean like in your book, and there's must be an invitation, but it must be accepted. It must be people have to show up. If you're the only one showing up that can feel, you know, like you're just spinning your wheels or, you know, it must be part of the you have to create that culture around.
Laura: You must create the invitation you have to ask and if you get rejected, and this goes back to being an artist, you know, I always say you can't get a yes, if you don't submit your material. And if you've gotten to know it means that you had the courage to submit it in the first place.
Arielle: Yes, it is. And it goes for everything. But I love what you said about US and US, and I wanted to ask you about how you sift and work to shift the consciousness around this awesome Ben paradigm that we seem to be stuck in as a world.
Laura: Well, okay, so I love that you're asking me this question in the context of the retreats because that's where I see it's so alive and well. So, as we all know when we're in a group thing can go wrong quickly. So, I at Haven and I have like six different programs five or six different programs. I have strong rules you know, and I've learned on the job What's so important about creating healthy community like you I'm a community builder. Right now, I'm in the middle of an eight-week online writing course called haven home and the big piece of it is the community I mean I love it and I broke it there's 75 people doing it so we've broken them down into groups of eight or nine and then I beam in and answer questions like led retreat again. was so critical to have strong legs so one of the rules that I said haven up with when we're in our opening circle the first night is we stay out of politics religion and pop both subjects which of course it's subjective, but you might not be asked me but whatever that means, and we agree to be emotionally responsible if don'ts and that's just in our comings and goings right that's when we're, you know, in social our or walking from building to building or during dinner have different meals. Of course, people can write about anything that they want to write About, and I love that.
So, what I love the most, because I also have a foundation that offers partial scholarships to people is that in one country, you might have somebody, these are people who, who likely wouldn't meet in their normal lives. And so, so but they're all seekers, right? So, I always say to people, whatever is your currency outside of human heart language and your willingness, willingness to put your heart in your hand and be vulnerable and real and raw and supportive, just goes out the window. So, like on one retreat, we had a woman from the local Native American reservation, the Blackfoot reservation, we had a woman who was a luggage handler at the Miami airport with fibromyalgia. Can you imagine being a luggage handler with fibromyalgia, and constant pain. And we had Ralph Waldo Emerson's great, great granddaughter. And then we had the bestselling author, Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the help, and that's public.
So, I can say that which was, you know, she and I had the same editor for we the same editor. And that's how she heard about haven. But you know, her book went stratospheric, and the movie was nominated, was made into a movie, and nominated for an Oscar. And then, you know, you've got a housewife from Winnetka, Illinois. And you I mean, it's like, it doesn't matter what you're with one of the retreats, we have Ted Kennedy's brain surgeon, he teaches at Harvard. And you know, and then we have people who, who haven't even gotten, you know, haven't gotten through high school, cool, and doesn't matter, that us place comes down to heart language, that's what I call it. And when you're suspended from your normal life, and you come out to a place like Montana and do a haven writing retreat, or just like what I tried to capture, well, it's Grove, there's one of the characters has a lot of money to one another one of the characters has nothing in her bank account doesn't matter. We all die at the end of this thing.
Arielle: Yes, we do. You know.
Laura: Like one time on one retreat, we had a fundamentalist right wing, Christian and a, an orthodox Jew. And each of these women were writing daily devotionals, in their respective databases.
Laura: And I remember one of the happiest moments on that 1000 people was watching them give each other supportive feedback in the workshop section about their daily devotionals. And one of them that I'm not going to read your book, but I wanted to do well. And I wanted to serve as readers. And I thought that is the power of what happens when we agree to be emotional. Adults, receive emotionally responsible adults, and we step outside of this, us and them and is pointing fingers, and you're different than me, and instead step into this world of acceptance and looking for what's similar about us, the empathy piece, and writers.
All creatives are people who create art, I guess, are people who I think sometimes are empathetic to a fault. It can hurt us to walk around feeling everybody all the time. So that's my answer to your question. I see a live while at Haven and I see it alive and well in a rural community, where literally, you know what's going on in somebody's life by what's on their laundry line, oh, no more male underwear, I guess he left. It's all out there, whether you're going to eventually end up on the side of the road in a ditch because a sheet of black ice. And I don't know anyone that lives here in good conscience, who wouldn't pull over to try to help that person.
Arielle: Can probably come over and help anyone. And I do think that this whole pandemic has become a place like the pandemic itself has its own place. And it's making us aware of how much we hopefully aware of how much we need each other, hopefully aware of how we can show up for one another, hopefully, also what you said earlier about just having, being willing and able to ask, we must ask for what we need. That's a skill. It's an art, I think is you know, anyone putting themselves out creatively must learn. You need your people to like both celebrate you when you have a success and like hold you while you're solving. Something broke your heart, because there will be a million things that break your heart in a creative life, which we all are living creative lives, like you said, whether we know it or not. So, what are your I mean, you wrote about in this essay right now, but in general, what are your daily practices that keep you in your heart space? Being a Creator of all the work that you do, you're prolific, you've written so many books, whether they're published or not, is not the point and I know you know that. What keeps you being able to do the important work that you do and help all these people because I know you've helped. How many people have you helped them Haven now?
Laura: It's over 1000 if everything's different, you know, because of the pandemic, so I had to cancel all of my 2020 retreats and most of my 2021 Normally I'm doing a program every month, whether it's haven one, which is the five day retreat, whether it's a one, two, which is for graduates, as it were of haven one, and then I've got haven three, when I work as people's one on one editors, I do all these different things five day where I mean five hour workshops, but because of COVID, I had to cancel all of it. Thank goodness I had already videoed gotten professionally a nice video, the eight-week course. So, for me, what's kept me going during this time, writing is not difficult for me,
I'm very lucky, I have a very, for me, what's difficult is moving my body around. I just for many years felt like I was this is head floating around in the universe, and I bought, and you laugh, like you. Yeah. And now we kind of all are like these Talking Heads untethered. But what I tell people is that it's okay to have your head in the clouds as a creative person, but we got to get our feet on the ground. And so, I in this time of pandemic, I hired a wellness coach. And I mean, I know all this stuff, but that doesn't matter if we know it and don't practice it. It's not doing anything except for making us feel guilty or we feel choose to feel guilty. So, she really helped me when I was saying earlier to be playful, even if it's difficult material, she really helped me to get playful about being in my body. I wanted to I could just walk out my back door to Canada, and they won't let us in right now. You know, I mean, I've got like all these hiking trails everywhere, I used to have horses, and in my mind, I must hike to the top of the mountain behind my house for nothing at all. And that doesn't work. Because right now I'm working on two or three different books, I'm leading my course I got the book, paperback coming out next week. I'm gonna I'm starting to Brookhaven again for the fall. So, I've got a lot going on. And I tend to sit like I wrote in that essay in my bed, which I'm not using anymore, and work. And then I must find time for my own writing. So, what this woman is now my friend will know her before I hired her, but she really helped me just to take little, teeny breaks, little, teeny breaks, that's all it's okay, you don't have to climb the mountain, you can go out on the front porch. And just stretch a little bit, do some, you know, roll on your shoulders, do some breathing exercises, be grateful that you have a front porch to go out onto in the first place, and then go back in and it just little ablution airy bodily movements like that really have helped me during this time. And then it makes me think, oh, maybe I can walk down the mailboxes. You know, or hey, maybe I'll trudge through the snow where there's no path because it's like walking on a beach, it's harder to walk through snow than just on a trail.
Arielle: And it's so fun. It's fun to walk through the sun and just smell the earth.
Laura: Thing the playfulness of it. I used to have horses I had to give them away because of the pandemic which that they were a huge lifeline for me riding horses and we used to in the winter I'd walk them around and make like a labyrinth in the snow and it was just this beautiful kind of remind the full thing to do but that's my advice to anybody right now just life in cups of tea life in small stretches like being gentle with ourselves but do get out of bed.
Arielle: Says Laura who spent months there when it's true sometimes you have to go I mean I was laughing like that because I know for myself that I have to move my body every day in some way just to be able to sleep because my mind goes goes goes goes goes so if I don't move my body doesn't matter how tired I am quote unquote I will not fall asleep until 3am and I decided that I'm worrying I'm just I'm just working my mind will keep working. So, I know that I must tire it's like I'm walking around with a dog but I'm walking to walk my dog I am that you know it my teacher so do so cat talks about the barking dogs, your mind and your ego being the barking dogs. And so, for me it's like I'm taking my barking dogs for a while. And it is those little things.
It's like looking up from when you're sorry, just look out the window. Just moments of being nothing. And I think that reading something I love reading I read every day to before bed. But in reading books sometimes I get reminded of those small moments of life that I been avoiding or missing or longing for, in your book, Willa’s Grove and both of your books, I love your memoir, I just, I told I broke down the system, in my car, in the rain, like choosing to stay in the car, and weeping because it was so beautiful, and real.
Laura: Incredible worlds. You know, the fact that you can see that book in your mind's eye brings me great joy, Arielle, because, you know, I made that I could see that whole Willa’s Grove in my mind, too. And it's nowhere I've ever been. That town in Montana is nowhere near where I live, it's in the middle of the state. And I've not been to that part of the state very much. So, like, I can see it in my mind's eye. I know that this is your interview, and I'm answering questions, but I would love to hear you talk to how, as a filmmaker, you know, what? How does that mind's eye work for you? It's like, how do we? How do we land on imagining a whole world and people in documentary person, it's still you're imagining stuff, the activation of our imagination is probably the number one thing that I'm after the activation of our intuition and our imaginations? Like, how do we keep that alive? I guess? I'd love to hear.
Arielle: I mean, I think it's like, I think intuition is I think you hit it with that, adding that into the equation, I think we must do it through being willing to be still and listen, to acknowledge first the voices in our heads, and there are many, and then the voices in our heart because they're different. And I feel like we must trust that, that we don't always know the way I had this. I worked with a union therapist, in my 20s, out of the Evanston, you, Senator Carl, you know, some people call him, I don't know, I say you.
And I had this dream, and I'll never forget. And it was in a dream analysis. And it was while I was starting my business, and it was I was driving on a highway fast. But I couldn't get the windshield to clear, and it couldn't see anything. And that has always stuck with me. Because I feel like that a lot of the time. In my life. I just don't know where I'm going. Now what I've learned over time, I feel like this just happened yesterday, I was having a conversation with this man. I'm going to have on the podcast, Art Jones, who I feel as a mentor of mine is a documentary filmmaker much more seasoned than me. And I called him for a different reason. And he just started asking, so he's like, what are you doing about distribution? What are you doing? What sort of business side of the filmmaking world and I'm, like, really cringy about doing pursuing? And so, for me, it's also trusting that there is a flow that's bigger than me, I can see the story maybe before it happens, like I could see the films that I'm making, like I can see the feeling that they'll give people that's what I guess I capture. I can see like I read, you know, Francesca Lia block, no, but that doesn't mean anything.
She was one of my favorite young adult writers. When I was, I started reading her in middle school, and I ended up taking one of her plays the Hanged Man, the Hanged Man, and which is a tarot card and turning it into, it was a fluke, I turned into a play as my senior independent testing project that I directed in high school. And one of the lines and that was about I want to make things I want to make things that make people feel their pulse. And that is kind of one of my North Stars. Like I want to make things that remind people that they're alive and like awake, like I would wake people up so I think if you have your what have it, your bigger reason, your purpose that you've connected with, like I think half the battle of life, which I always feel so grateful for. It's like knowing what you want to do in the first place. So many people just spend years of their maybe their whole lives just feeling like they don't know what they're doing here. And so I feel like those of us who are lucky enough to become clear about that early on, then you have to do what you said the doing part like then you have to do it, you know, and you don't do I think that's where a lot of people fall into the depression hole and the things that you know, just the stuckness and we all get in there sometimes but there is a work ethic involved like I'm sure your mother's work ethic has served you.
Laura: Oh yeah. That little essay I put out the other day is really a homage to my mother's work ethic. And how it can how it can end up actually really hurting you if you don't get playful thing has really helped me on my screensaver says playful, curious and tiny. And that's toward myself. It's easy for me to be that way with other people.
Arielle: I have this on my desk, which my mom always used to say to me, which I hated. Less than ability. Flexible, like that's the thing that I know, I'm not naturally physically flexible. But that also translates to other parts of my life. So, it's like I can have my plans. And I can see how I want something to go. But that I also have to leave room for the mystery, I have to leave room for the amazing and that's why I love documentary because like for the story of Michael D, I just basically said to Michael, can you tell me I want to come to LA for a week, I want to definitely spend this much time interviewing you, but you tell me what else we should do? You Take me into your world. And gosh, there were moments where my brain was like, why are we doing this? And then I see those sick those snippets in the film. And I'm like, Oh, my God. So well, we went to them. So well, we went down that we went to that shop, we saw that person we and it's that it's following the trail that you know, you are letting yourself be guided towards I guess, which I think is probably like your process, I would guess his work as a writer.
Laura: Yeah, they're like breadcrumbs. And I'm not just thinking about getting put it all out there as a creator, and then you go back in with a different kind of tack. And that's the editor’s hat. And that's the one that is full of judgment. And that can be mean. But if you learn how to be kind, as an editor to the creative in you, you can wear both hats.
And I’ve learned I mean, it's taken me a long time. And I don't recommend this to my clients. But I've learned how to kind of double helix them and be both at the same time. But when I feel that, that editor voice saying no, this paragraph, you don't need it out. And others say you know what, you need to go in the next room. Because, in fact, because we aren't always the best judge of what comes out of that flow. And where we put the kink in the hose. You know, I want to Article Oh magazine took and, and they asked me to take out 400 words. And so, I was doing that at which I love to do it's a lot of fun. And in a weird way. And I took out this one paragraph, and it was about four words long. And the editor said, oh, no, no, no, no, that's the whole reason why I have wired the essay. So, we're not always the best judges of that of that side of us when needed.
Arielle: So that's why we need each other that we need each other. I mean, that's why for me right now, I'm choosing to do this podcast because it seems like a great way to connect to a wider audience until I can show my films in person again, because I really love the selfish creator part of me loves that experience of being in the room together in the theater where the lights come up and just seeing the misty, just feeling that energy. I love that. And I want us I also want to share the work, so I feel like these conversations are a bridge in some way. One of my someone on my team called some other videos I did like that lily pads is like the lily pads that bring it all together.
Laura: Well, that's from Annie Lamott book, traveling mercies. Have you ever read that? I love her.
Arielle: I'm sure I've read that..
Laura: I have her biography, called Traveling Mercies. And at the beginning of it, she talks, she calls it lily pads. And it's kind of like these little landing pads that she creates for herself. Like I mean, I think great minds.
Arielle: My she's on my board here. As a beautiful What? And this is my last. Well, I always say that, but maybe this is my own hopefully my last question.
What lifts your spirit these days the most?
What gives you hope?
And where do you find inspiration?
Laura: Well, like you I read a lot. But right now, because I can't do a one a two, I'm offering a three to people who haven't even done hated at all. So, I become a full-time editor. And it's been, it's been hard for me because my life was very much imbalanced before so that I was on teacher mode. And then I was on writing mode, and then I was on editorial mode. Right now. I'm on full time editorial mode. And then I put myself on lockdown whenever I can. And like this afternoon I've got on my calendar, and I suggest this to anybody who's listening.
You need to carve out time for yourself, put it on your calendar, whether you have a good old-fashioned pen on paper calendar or Google Calendar, which is what I use now and I can't imagine living without it just have the whole afternoon says my initials are l’m lockdown down in blue. And I just must claim it. Yes. The other thing is like you with this podcast, I think a lot of us have was I think it was the Queen herself Who said I will be divided by how we behaved during this time pandemic. And then that spoke to me and I when I came back with the book tour basically just you know and I've got an agenda. You know, Willa’s Grove didn't land on the USA. bestseller lists, which made me happy because obviously because every writer wants bestseller, but it really spoke to how, you know, everyone's asking this question in the world. So now what can help? What can I do? How can I, okay, translate what I do in Haven and what my skill sets are in a way that can help the world because like you, I really get a lot out of helping other people being absurd as my writer statement as I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others. For myself, and others, and when I finally figured that one out, that's when that's when my career started, when I really got my finger on the pulse of why I'm doing this thing in the first place.
And so, I put it out there, just like I did with Haven, Haven, I was going through a divorce, I didn't know I was gonna keep my house, you know, I've been a stay-at-home mom, very lucky in that way. And I just went on my Facebook one day and said, hey, anybody want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana. And you know, the memoir had come out, a lot of people were fans, they felt like they were friends. Because the book is written in a very funny way, like, you're over my house had meetings, and 24 people signed up in two hours. That's what they know you're in the flow, right? So. So I did the same thing with when I came back from the book tour, I just thought, I got the skill set, like I know how to help people use writing, to move forward in their lives, and shed old patterns and embrace the present. So, while people can hate and really value, the written word, the people that were doing these, so now workshops on the road, are people who really just want to use writing as a tool. I mean, if you got a pen and a piece of paper, and you can speak and spell, and you can write, and so I put it out there. Every Friday, I'm going to be doing a free one-hour journal writing practice. And I never teach journaling, because I figure, I usually teach people kind of more complex sorts of writing, but I decided to break down the journal writing practice in two different segments, because I think that especially when we're in a lot of pain, will swirl in a vortex of Whoa, when we journal. And it's an old story, it might not be true anymore. And it might not serve us at all. And so, we just, it's like, well, this is my story. And I'm sticking to it, even if it hurts me. And so, I decided to break it into this process, where you, where you write for three minutes, so you're in that flow place, and then I come in and say, okay, with your pen and ask yourself, does that thought pattern serve you? And if the answer is yes, you keep going for another three minutes. And if not, you'd love to go back to what I really want to say. So, I watched it work its magic out on the road. And I thought, well, I can do that on the zoom. So, I put it out there and like over 600 people signed up. That's how starved people were This is the last March identify every single Friday.
Arielle: And I hit them a couple times. And I've recommended it to people, and I just come back because it's just so you're doing that led me to a lot of big changes in my life. So, you know, it was great, it was very helpful in a moment and a key moment of I want to say distress, because I do write every day in a journal way in other ways. But this was a different feeling, because it was a communal, and you were guiding but also, it's a Friday at the end of the week. It felt like it was like this time where I'm almost in a space of wanting to resist what I really like, what is the week about? or What am I moving towards or away from like, I kind of want to shut down sometimes on Friday. So, it was a great place to be like, stay with us stay with yourself. Like stay awake for the weekend.
Laura: Yeah, I mean, especially because these days start to me know that lead together. And so, it's I like it's at four o'clock Mountain Standard Time, it's free. I don't charge a dime for it. And I lead people through, and they can be anonymous or not. That is feeding my soul because I still get to community bills, I still get to guide people through something that I know is a powerful tool that's good for all of us. And you know, I often do it as well, while because I've been myself out so that I'm not distracting people. And then I sit here right here. And then I write and do it as well. Not every time. And boy it's really shifted a lot for you know, whatever you can give right now. If you can do it without it hurting. You know, you got to take care of yourself. First put your oxygen mask on first, as they say. But if you're somebody who's a real giver and needs to be of service to people, figure out what it is that you've got the game give and give it because the world is in a place of needing to receive things right now. We need to know what you know.
Arielle: And I will put a link to that in the show notes and as well as to your books and I just want to I want I feel like we've known each other for long, many lives maybe. And I just really appreciate you and I'm so grateful for every conversation that we have.
Laura: To Arielle, I wish that I had known you we would have been pushy and bossy.
Arielle: We can do that now we can. One day we shall meet in person, plug,
Laura: Hey, thanks for doing what you do. And thanks for having me on your podcast. Thank you for listening.