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by Allison Green

Before I returned to Hedgebrook recently for a brief stay, I had a dream. I arrived to find that the Hedgebrook property was ringed with new buildings. A teaching colleague — it didn’t occur to me to ask why she was working at Hedgebrook — gave me a tour of the dark-panelled bowling alley and the snack bar that smelled of frying oil. She showed me my “cottage,” a dingy brown nylon tent. When I asked its name, she said it was called “Willow,” just like the cottage where I had originally stayed seven years before. Outside the tent, cars in a perpetual traffic jam idled in four lanes.

I knew, in my dream, that the real Hedgebrook was still there somewhere: the quiet cottages, the douglas firs, and the farmhouse with the communal table. But I wasn’t sure I would be given access to it.

Several days into my actual stay, I realized what the dream meant. The distracting and disturbing perimeter of Hedgebrook was my hectic life. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to leave it behind and find the same serenity that had allowed me, in that first stay, to do so much good writing. Life had been particularly busy in the six months before I arrived. My partner and I had remodeled our new place, moved, and sold our house. In fact, our house closed the day before I took the ferry to Whidbey Island. Also, I’d been teaching online summer classes, which had conditioned to me to check my email every couple of hours. My brain was as scattered as an abandoned game of pick-up sticks.

I needn’t have worried, of course. No one is renting bowling shoes on the Hedgebrook property. And the moment I walked into Fir cottage, I breathed in the quiet contemplation of over two decades of writers. I sat right down and wrote for two hours before dinner, and over the next four days burrowed into a revision of the manuscript I’d brought.

Hedgebrook is a reminder of what it takes for many of us to write well: uninterrupted time and concentration. As someone wrote in one of the Fir journals, our goal once we arrive is to figure out how to take what is nurturing about the place into our everyday lives. We need to carve out time at home to think, feel, and focus. Some writers do this for an hour or two every morning, or at lunch, or at night after family members have gone to bed. Some can dedicate a whole week — or a month, or a sabbatical — to a particular project. When I was in graduate school and working full-time, I told everyone I knew to forget about seeing me for awhile. Every day I came home from work and wrote until my eyes were closing. After a month, I’d finished the revision of the novel that was my M.F.A. thesis.

In addition to finding time, many of us need to figure out how to replicate the camaraderie and support of those dinner table conversations. We need to cultivate friendships with other writers who push us to do our best while encouraging us that we can do it. I’ve had two good writing groups in my life; they are as hard to form as good marriages. The group I have now emerged from a Hedgebrook alumnae gathering, and it’s so much easier to keep writing, knowing that my friends are out there writing, too, keeping the faith.

Hedgebrook isn’t a paradise, of course. I was reminded of that reading the Fir journals. While everyone expressed gratitude for her time there, some residents were disturbed by close encounters with owls, some by the unearthly quiet, some by the comments of other writers at dinner, and some by the lack of people on Whidbey Island who looked like them. The community of Hedgebrook is of this world, not outside it. Too, we bring our own demons; they don’t crawl into our kitchen cupboards back home and wait for us to return.

Still, Hedgebrook gives us something incredibly precious: a time outside of normal time, a space outside of our normal space. In those long mornings, when sunlight sifts through fir boughs and across our tablets and computer screens, we often find that we can be still enough to conjure the right words. We need this. The world needs this. And we have to do everything we can to bring those long, quiet moments home with us so that Hedgebrook is no longer a place but a state of mind.

 

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.

Allison Green
About Allison Green

2 Comments

  • Pingback: Guest Post | Allison Green

  • Gail chase
    6:46 PM - 8 October, 2012

    How can anyone criticize Hedgebrook? Jeez! it’s a virtual, free resort.Wonderful owners. Lunches brought to your door where they are left in baskets so not to disturb. What’s not to like ?

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