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By Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

A Healing at Hedgebrook Part 1

I was to begin my residency at Hedgebrook on Sept 26, 2017. I came to here, fully laden with a year’s worth of my very active and stressful life in NYC. I flew into Seattle a week early. I came to recuperate and restore. On Sept. 20, 2017Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, my homeland and the setting for much of my work.

On the internet, I saw the pictures of flooded streets, shattered houses, and weeping people who looked just like me and mine. The president sneered at our plight and went golfing, obliviously unconcerned about the suffering of the American citizens who live on the island. In addition to exhaustion, I was now filled with anxiety, helplessness, despair, and unimaginable rage. I had never expected much from our ‘leader’ but abandoning citizens to thirst, starvation, illness, and homelessness seemed a little much, even for him.

My first few days were filled with alternating weeping and nightmare-filled sleep. My third novel, the reason I came here, was left untouched. Meditation, my conduit to my creative voice, was impossible. Every time I was served a great meal or even poured a glass of cold water, I wondered how many people needed it more than me. Days passed and I found out my family had survived the hurricane but had lost a home and everything in it. I thought about leaving my residency and going straight to a devastated island. But communication was almost impossible and transportation even more so.

My ancestors have always been my guides and the source of my stories. But my conduit to them, meditation, was out of the question. So I took them with me as I walked the paths at Hedgebrook Farm. I didn’t walk far but I walked slowly and listened to the breeze in the trees and noted the inclines in the terrain and the colors of the foliage. The birds in the birdbath rejoiced in the sun and the lone owl outside my cottage kept me company. I opened myself to the healing power of the woods. I embraced quiet and solitude and I knew that I didn’t walk alone.

Slowly, the nightmares went away and the anger reduced from a raging flame to a simmering flicker. The darkness began to lift and I could sit and write and write and write. Writing has always been my refuge and my best weapon against injustice. Once I could sit in my journal and on my computer and connect with the story, I knew the healing had begun.

After the first week of my residency, a tiny bud of a plan began to unfold. What could I give my people to help in their healing? As the grassroots aid began to trickle in and other nations took up the monumental job of clean up, I searched for my contribution. And a tiny bud of a plan began to blossom.

When I leave Whitby I will go home to New York City and join the grassroots relief effort there. As soon as there are reliable communications, I will contact my Puerto Rican counterparts on the island with my idea. After the monumental job of clean up, healthcare and infrastructure repair has begun. After the hospital, schools, community centers, and libraries begin to reopen, after the basic necessities of life are somewhat in place, I’d like to go down and work with my fellow writers to conduct writing workshops in community spaces. People will need some place to put their fears, their anguish, their nightmares, and hopefully, their dreams for the future. It is too early now. The healing of the bodies must come before we can begin the healing of the soul. And I hope I can be just a little part of that.

I am so grateful for my time on Whitby Island and to the loving people, I found there. I’m glad I didn’t leave ahead of time. I’m glad I found a way of healing myself so that then I can try to heal others who will need to do so for many years to come. Thank you to the people of Hedgebrook, both staff, and fellow writers, who gave me a place to heal and restore in more ways than they could have ever imagined.

 

By Kathleen Alcalá

Kathleen Alcalá

In 1989, I was asked to interview Nancy Skinner Nordhoff about her new endeavor, a writing retreat for women. We spent part of a day talking. I think we drove from Seattle to Whidbey together, so she could show me what form her ideas were beginning to take, how her dreams were turning into something real. I had a lot of dreams too, so I was anxious to see what this looked like, given the resources.

Nancy described how her marriage had fallen apart, leaving her to reinvent herself from the good wife and good mother, roles she had filled to the best of her ability to – whatever she wanted or needed to be. She took a good hard look at what she saw for the future, and how to turn her considerable skills and assets into something practical and useful to those without such resources.

Nancy described a cross-country car trip and how she was drawn to rural spaces, found herself wanting to press her nose to the windows of farmhouses, yearning to join the circle of family she imagined inside. Her friend, a midwife, helped Nancy focus her yearning into a specific goal, a creative space where women could feel safe, didn’t need to do domestic work, and could support and encourage each other. It was a space in which their creative work could take precedence, and be their major focus, if only for a few short weeks. I could not help but wonder what was in this for Nancy. I have worked for non-profits most of my life, but understanding the motivations of people who, to me, seem to have so much more agency than the rest of us remains mysterious.

I remember feeling intense waves coming off Nancy. How I suddenly became a sounding board, and felt the need to be very careful not to say anything that would limit her exploration. I am generally tone deaf when it comes to other’s emotions. In addition, I was a bit overwhelmed with my own emotions that day. I admitted my recent failure at retaining a leadership position at a difficult organization. It had happened so recently, that I was still in shock at how badly things had gone.

Nancy suggested that I spend some time myself at the residency, a chance at some stolen time in paradise.

So I had to share another secret with Nancy. There was a limited amount of time I could spend, even at a dream residency. What had started out as a general interview for publication was turning into a series of big reveals. Nancy offered me a residency at Hedgebrook for two weeks in the fall, when the first four cottages would be ready, and I agreed. This was probably late spring or early summer at the time.

In late September, my belly swelled out to there, I moved into one of the cottages. I know other Hedgebrook residents form deep attachments to their particular cottage. I have since stayed for short visits in two or three of them, and always loved all of them the way one loves her aunties. They have collectively nurtured me with their benign, nonjudgmental spaces. The murmuring trees, the talkative owls, the path through the cedar deep, all have combined to supply that “Yes, and…” that allows a writer to fill that blank space with her own words.

What I do remember are the other three women who stayed at the same time. Dana Stabenow, upon meeting me, promptly offered to deliver my baby if I went into labor early. She had EMT training! I demurred, politely I think, holding out for full term. Amy Pence was a poet, and the fourth, Susan Brown, was working on children’s books. All have produced several or many books since then, raised families of either books or children, and effected positive change in the world not only as writers, but as teachers, parents, philanthropists, and general wise women.

I had already written my first collection of stories by the time I got to Hedgebrook, but managed to produce the first forty pages of what would become Spirits of the Ordinary, my first novel, in the two weeks I spent on that magic isle. Oh yes: On October 19 of that year, my son Benjamin was born, the first “Hedgebrook baby,” and certainly the first male to spend the night in a Hedgebrook cottage. I had an easy pregnancy and birth, and I attribute much of it to the affirmation I received at Hedgebrook. Looking back, I see how much more of the world Nancy understood than I did at that time, that giving women time and creative space might be one of the greatest ways to heal the earth, and oneself. I have tried to give back in my own way, mostly through teaching, but also by trying to be present when someone needs an ear, and answer the inevitable questions about the writing and publishing process. I will never forget what Nancy taught me, and what she offered me during my time of greatest joy out of her great need to heal.

 

 

By Guest Author

Hedgebrook Authoring Change – Interview of Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

Sadly, yes. I’m a self-taught writer, so every time I write a book, I have to teach myself to write all over again, and it’s not a quick process. For my first novel, Why She Left Us, I read like crazy and mapped out the books I liked to figure out what a novel was. I dissected them, teaching myself everything from how to end a chapter to how to format dialogue.

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By Hedgebrook Guest

Hedgebrook Vortext: An Uncommon Convergence

In this post, Hannah Lee Jones captures her experience from VORTEXT in 2015, describing the rich details she took with her and emphasizing the broad “genre, geography, life experiences, [and] thematic passions” of the workshop teachers who will return once again for a reinvigorating weekend of VORTEXT this spring.

For four years the forested lands of the Whidbey Institute at Chinook have been host in May to a conference of women writers from all over the country. The term I prefer over “conference” is convergence, and the convergence is VORTEXT, a three-day writing conference hosted by Hedgebrook which ended last weekend. And I remember each spring how lucky I am that the non-profit retreat for women writers and venue for women’s voices exists just down the road from where I live, here on gorgeous Whidbey Island.    Read more

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Hedgebrook Extends Radical Hospitality in Cyberspace

As writers, we’re constantly learning, improving our craft – or at least we should be. The ways you can educate yourself nowadays are mindboggling: get an MFA, participate in in-person workshops, attend conferences, read blogs or books, even take online classes. This last option is the one I personally like the best because it doesn’t involve travel (you know how we writers hate having to put on pants), can be done on your own schedule, and is significantly cheaper than traveling or getting a degree. Plus, many are taught by expert working authors with names you’d recognize – those who are at the place in their careers we all aspire to be.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Staff

Why Saying Goodbye to Writers-in-Residence Gets Me Fired Up

“I’ve been so happy here you may have to open the windows to get rid of my thrilling to make room for your own.”

“Dearest ghosts & spirits of Fir Cottage — I am greatly humbled after reading your journal stories, and feeling your gifts left around the cottage.”

“Some villages are inherited perennially in the heart. I leave a wisp of spirit behind, to combine with spirits of all who have been here, and with bird and tree and rock and leaf. For the village of Hedgebrook has many citizens and extends wider than you may know.”   Read more

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Love letter from a soon-to-be-former staff member, always evangelist, and life long friend

Dear Hedgebrook,

I knew who you were before we met. We had a chance encounter early in my life, when I was just beginning to find out who I was, but before I was ready to be that person. I came for a day, to help with the Women Playwrights Festival, and I was enchanted and delighted by the grounds, the magic, the spirit of this place doing something I could only begin to understand to support women writers. I was into you, but it was a casual thing.   Read more

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Paul Constant and the Seattle Review of Books

This summer, my business partner Martin McClellan and I launched a new website called the Seattle Review of Books. We did this because we believe Seattle is a world-class city of literature, and we believe Seattle is hugely underserved for book reviews, interviews, and news. As soon as Martin and I started dreaming up SRoB, we became more and more excited about our mission—to represent the reading lives of average Seattleites, to create a site that resembles the actual bookshelves of actual people who live in the Northwest.   Read more

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A Week of One’s Own: A Memoir Master Class at the home of Radical Hospitality

Hi Hedgebrook Followers,

I am very much looking forward to teaching the Master Class “Form Is Content: Finding and Developing Your Memoir’s Structure” this November. Teaching is one of my greatest joys, and Hedgebrook is a dream location for teaching, learning, and writing. If you’ve read the course description and you’re considering applying, let me tell you a little bit more of what you can expect during your weeklong stay.   Read more

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