A Footbridge from Cedar Cottage

By Hedgebrook Guest

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Categories: Alum Experiences, Garden & Grounds,

The truth is, I resisted writing this blog. Not because I don’t love Hedgebrook — in fact I do, with every bone in my body. Not because the experience isn’t transformative — I cherish it as life-changing. Not because I don’t carry the feeling of writing in Cedar cottage with me— it’s in the blood pumping from my heart, braided into my double-helix, the DNA of who I am becoming.

Lying on a couch made of nine cows, home sick under a blue blanket, at high noon I realized I’ve resisted this. I can feign shock and pretend I don’t know why. I can make excuses about being swamped with preparing to go abroad, long hours selling fruits at the farmers market, the strain of reading statutes, the stress of moving across the country. But we are all too smart for that.

I resisted because I was hiding. Casting off the blanket to get up, write, and face this life; a spell and silence are broken. From Brooklyn to the bug splattered windshield of a D.C. bound bus — typing about Hedgebrook in my trusty laptop gives it the finality of words with punctuation, a conjugation of the past. I filed it away for another day. This is a coming to terms I have resisted. Twisting this plot, one way or another. To give time for perspective and processing, in the pursuit of perfection — so I’ve told myself. No matter how brave our community can encourage us to be, we (meaning I) still fear (sometimes) that we (I) will fail in some way. I resisted for all of these things.

Now I am ready to build with words like panels of wood we’ve all walked on. A footbridge between the magical mystery tour of Hedgebrook and life on the outside.

To me, Hedgebrook means everything: the meaningful eye contact with owls, the enriching company that organically generates friendships and a community that extends beyond Whidbey Island, hearing my own writing voice like never before in the absence of demands that pull on us in everyday life, that the food is amazing, that you can literally feel the love and care invested by the staff, that it brings me closer to my intuition—which informs my writing, that the wild berries probably have supernatural powers, and that at Hedgebrook, I am in the company of giants.

The experience has been transformative. There are stories deep within us and when you take away the distractions of life, that’s when they surface in our writing. Take away the clamor of roommates, the sound of trash trucks at sunrise, the early sirens of ambulances down Brooklyn streets. Each cottage is space to reflect, write, breathe.

Among other tragedies, when I reach Hedgebrook it is July with Gaza on the news. In the misty morning, the electric kettle plays the oud, singing it’s love song, saying remember me — the plight of people purple with bruises on their hearts and heads, uprooted — remember me, even in places that are pristine. This brings me to poetry from Suheir Hammad, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Susan Rich. I collect myself over a cup of mud that smells like heaven, wrap the earth’s coziest blanket around me, watch the flames of a first fire and listen to the voice inside.

I hear raindrops cushioned by a fresh forest — it overcomes some terror of diving deep into the writing, as if the canopy of trees is personally cradling me. Can the old leather couch in California also support the weight of these heavy dreams?

Walking the trails with eyes and heart wide open, in dialogue with all life around me, I pick up something thin and dried I’ve raked as a child, discarded from a tree. But this is enchantment so it is not dead. Instead, it is the illuminated exoskeleton of a leaf.

On the dirt I inhale, exhale, and close my eyes to meditate. Looping back to the cottage left unlocked, because Hedgebrook is safe in countless ways, I skip, jump, run — which I haven’t done in a decade. Rushing in a wave of excitement to write the next scene, I speak more frankly with characters who are visiting. These berries boost inspiration in everything.

“How lucky! What did I do to deserve this?” I’ll whisper as I stare out a timber framed cinema screen of glass and green, somehow reflecting this shifty life right back onto me.

I’ll type away before an audience of memories, built in rainbows, and flowers I carried from a garden — lost in the maze of my own world. I’ll slurp a silver spoon of soup in the space between sentences and fall in love with glass jars as they too represent this experience for me.

Under an orchard tree, I spill my guts into a spiral notebook and observe the mighty power of ants up close. Then a butterfly will pass, pointing out the headless flowers, rising, reminding me of Stand by Ruth Forman.

On a red bike I pass wooly llamas, rural dogs with all bark and no bite, a yard of rusted machinery. Speeding down the hill, brake-free, suddenly I am nineteen in Isla Vista again. After the warning sign for a Tsunami — I pedal around a lagoon of reeds bending with the breeze, the way my mother cautions me to be, so that I don’t snap and break unnecessarily. Past chickens behind a fence (a Tehran courtyard on the other side of childhood), I pedal onto Double Bluff Beach.

Sitting on a log — is it the driftwood in the beginning of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being? Armed with an orange moleskin I watch the water, write a word, bite my lip, look at the bay some more, notice that the muse is sleeping, become distracted by a kid yelling about a crab in the sand and find out who the little girl in the story is meant to be.

Halfway back up the hill, without a wound, red blackberry dribbles on my fingertips. Later these bushes make me think of fruit trees, and the characters who climbed them in No Violet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.

Back in the bathhouse, I’ll lather up my sweaty shoulders freed from heavy court files I no longer carry. Under the shower, my shoulders are not slumped. In my spine flows the weightless unity of mind and body. At Hedgebrook, an unstoppable force is shining in me. With damp hair I’ll type about my last day at Legal Aid. Going to Hedgebrook is like traveling everywhere in a constant state of discovery.

Dinner is food that tastes like love. I sit facing the bay at a table where we laugh, praise, pause, peel away the layers and sometimes – just sometimes, we weep. I sink into the plush library of everything I want to read asking in a voice audible only to me, “Was I accepted by mistake?” But then I blink and these cobwebby doubts are shoed away. My fellow residents read and I am haunted by the truth of their stories, enamored with their brilliance. They fire me up to write for endless hours in a zone where time has no meaning, digging deep into the marrow of memory.

Outside Cedar cottage, the moon next door is lavender and stars are shooting across the Northwestern sky. It’s one in the morning. Before I sleep, I take a picture of the windowsill because it is on this edge that I want to live.

 

About the Author:

Bahar Mirhosseini started writing when she was very young, scribbling across journals that have filled up a wooden chest in Long Beach, California.  One summer, her insightful mother signed her up for a Young Writers Camp and since then, writing has nourished the survival of her soul.  As she grew, she wrote wherever she could, on paper napkins in restaurants and in the margins of her life. She was a Haywood Burns Fellow in Civil and Human Rights at the City University of New York School of Law and a Millspaugh Catlin International Human Rights Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights.  She worked at The Legal Aid Society of New York as a public defender and criminal-immigration staff attorney for about six and a half years.  After attending the VONA/Voices memoir and political content workshops, where her passion for writing was energized, she took a sabbatical from the law.  Bahar currently reports for the Women’s News Network and has been accepted as a Fellow with the International Legal Foundation to help train emerging public defenders in the West Bank.  She still feels the wondrous glow of her life-changing residency at Hedgebrook because it will forever radiate from her heart.

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.  

2 Comments

  • Susan Rich
    11:24 PM - 10 November, 2014

    Fantastic posting, Bahar;

    I read the whole piece again as soon as I finished the first reading just so I could arrive once more at that delicious last line. Such gorgeousness.

  • Elahe Amani
    3:02 PM - 8 May, 2015

    Great posting Bahar. Very proud of the woman you became…

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