My Year as a Sponge: Wringing Out at Hedgebrook

By Jen Marlowe

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

August, 2010. We gathered each evening around the Farmhouse Table.

“What did you work on today?” someone asked.

“A section of my memoir,” one woman answered.

“A new poem,” another offered.

Invariably, one of the women turned to me. “What did you write today, Jen?”

“I wrote…a press release.”

Vito, the residency director, warned us. Writers get the most from Hedgebrook if they break away from “real life” distractions and dive deeply into writing.

I intended to do just that. To carve out those weeks to work on my book about Martina, the sister of my friend Troy Davis, an innocent man on Georgia’s death row.

It didn’t go as planned.

I’d been helping Rachel Corrie’s family with their court case against the Israeli government. Rachel, from Olympia, WA, had been killed in Gaza in 2003. The trial would resume in early September, conflicting with my final Hedgebrook week. I’d leave Hedgebrook early to go to Israel. I coordinated translation, media advisories, logistics, all from Hedgebrook.

Then, there was my Global Theatrical Action. I’d written a play about my friend Aseel Asleh, one of thirteen Palestinians inside Israel killed in October 2000.  I’d been coordinating worldwide performances for the ten-year anniversary this October. I had a website to build, grants to apply for. The organizing slammed right into Hedgebrook.

I sometimes spent all day online at the pump-house. I cringed inside each time other writers, or worse, Vito, saw me there. I felt like I was breaking the rules. Worse: I was squandering the incredible gift I’d been given.

This spring, I wrote to Vito. Could I get my sacrificed week back? “Timing is everything,” Vito responded. Someone had just cancelled. There was an opening.

The nine months between my two Hedgebrook stays were relentless.

September: The Corrie trial resumes, re-wounding an already damaged family.

October: I’m in Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, London, Los Angeles, Derry. The Global Theatrical Action is successful, but watching the performances feels like re-living Aseel’s murder repeatedly.

November: I edit my Gaza film, immersed in harrowing details of a child’s execution.

December 16: Things are no easier for the Corries. I return to Haifa to help.

December 28-31: I’m in Jenin Refugee Camp, with the Freedom Theatre and its founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis.

December 31: I’m at a demonstration in Bil’in, West Bank. There’s more, especially potent, tear gas than usual. A tear gas canister hits my leg.

January 1: I’m back in Bil’in for a funeral. A woman was killed from yesterday’s tear gas.

January 30: I’m in Derry, with the families of Bloody Sunday victims. It’s the 39-year anniversary. Their pain is still raw.

March 28: Troy Davis’s final appeal is denied. Georgia cannot execute him yet; its stash of sodium thiopental was confiscated by the feds.

April 4: Juliano, from the Freedom Theatre, is shot and killed at close range by a masked gunman. I don’t sleep that night; I send out links to a video I made last year featuring Juliano.

April 5: I wake at 3am. I crank out an article about Juliano.

April 6: I sleep for an hour before waking, brain spinning. I work through the night.

April 7: I dream about someone being shot in the head. I get up at 3am and work.

April 8: I meet with Amnesty’s death penalty abolition coordinator. Troy’s execution date may be imminent.

April 12: Troy’s mother dies, of “natural causes.”  Martina says her mother died of a broken heart. She couldn’t handle another execution date. The family is stoic at the funeral. But how much more can they take?

April 15: There is another murder. Vittorio, an Italian peace activist in Gaza.

April 19: Georgia is close to announcing a new lethal injection drug. I circulate a petition for Troy and make a video about his case.

I continue to wake up at 3am.

Friends say they’re worried about me. I hate that. But, I recognize I’m on the verge of severe burn-out. Saturated. And, depending on Troy’s situation, I may need to absorb a lot more, soon. I desperately need to wring out.

And then…Hedgebrook. My re-instated week arrives.

I’ve written furiously all week. An article about Troy. One about Aseel and the Bloody Sunday families. I still coordinate some trial logistics for the Corries. Georgia has a new execution drug; I circulate Troy’s petition. But I leave the pump-house after an hour; two max.

It’s not that I’m worried about breaking the rules this time. It’s not even concern about squandering this second chance. I know I cannot extricate my writing from my activism because my writing is embedded in my activism. I can’t always control what the priority is: filming, writing, organizing.

Right now, I’m writing about Troy because I want Troy’s life to be saved. I’m writing about Aseel because I want Aseel’s life to be remembered.

And I’m writing this piece, because I need to wring out, so that I will be ready, whenever I may need to be, to plunge back in and absorb more.

I couldn’t have carved out the quiet space inside my brain to write, much less wring out, anywhere else.

Yes, Vito. Timing is everything.

5 Comments

  • Naomi
    12:33 AM - 2 June, 2011

    I’m so glad you got that week back, Jen. As someone who was there with you last summer, I have to say you never seemed to be “squandering” your time there. Your work was important and interesting, and the warmth & humor you brought to our table (and your “gameness” to do stuff like watching a meteor shower in the middle of the night) added immensely to *my* experience of Hedgebrook. Thanks for writing this, and for all you’re doing. Peace!

  • Ann Hedreen
    5:38 AM - 2 June, 2011

    Jen, I am honored to know you. And so happy that you had these two Hedgebrook experiences to bookend such a powerful year.

  • Kate Brickley
    5:43 PM - 5 June, 2011

    Jen, You are an amazing woman. There are times when I wish we were in my car after a class in Kent laughing hysterically as you read me Deep Thoughts. But you have moved on to do the work that you were born to do. I miss you. I love you. I worry about you. I am very proud of you.

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  • Susan N Platt
    2:47 PM - 5 December, 2015

    Jen
    Try herbal remedies, Lemon Balm in drops and ZZZZ, sold at Pike Place Market and Rescue Remedy, to get back to sleep.
    Susan

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