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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 Suzanne Ushie

Suzanne Ushie

After I applied for a Hedgebrook residency, I dreamed of walking on a beach with a small group of strangers. Acres of water on the left, sleek boats bobbing on the blue; a place without a name. But I could tell, in that unshowy way dreams have of making things known, that I was somewhere in the United States. I am prone to the most bizarre dreams, so I put this tame one down to submission fatigue, then dismissed it as fluff.

And yet I walked on that beach with my fellow residents a day after I arrived in Hedgebrook. I walked barefoot on ivory sand covered with thick logs and purple seashells. I laughed at the name—Double Bluff Beach?—and the curved shoreline—Useless Bay?—as the heat strained into my feet. Here, on this lush island blooming with heart, I would do little more than write for a month. To be given such a gift.

Every morning, I awoke to the shrieking of owls and sat at my desk. I bent to the page and struggled with my sentences. When my writing took its time, often the case, I stared out the window and into the woods, hoping to spot a deer. I had since made peace with being a slow writer. Without the usual distractions though, my process soon became suspect.

I mourned in the library, slouched in my favourite couch, a book on my lap. Surrounded by silence and stone, I read women who were in Hedgebrook before me, and rapture came over me. I again believed that I would write as well as I could whenever I could. Above all else, the incredible women in residence with me made me feel once more like myself.

We often lingered at the table after dinner, sated by the spectacular meal, bonding over everything from writing to midnight baths. They taught me to trust my process, to make room for magic. They teased me, too, about my refusal to discuss my ongoing project. Someone called me “No-nonsense,” which filled me with wicked glee.

One night we sat around a bonfire, wrote down our fears, and flung them into the flames. High on warm company, an improbable plan emerged: we’d hide in the garlic storeroom so we’d never have to leave. Weeks into our stay, we fed apples to the two llamas and agreed on names: Thelma for the brown, Louise for the white. I remember wishing it were that easy to come up with a book title.

Mornings turned into a truce of sorts. Sometimes my writing went well. Other times, not so much. On “good writing days,” as I began to call them, I would work far into afternoon, neglecting tea and food, until I looked up to see the sun lowering behind the trees. On less productive days, I curled up on the window seat and read. Or wandered through the woods. Once, I walked to a nearby lavender farm, struck by the stillness of the sprawling homes—a rarity in Lagos where I live.

In the hallowed tradition of residences, writers come and go. On the eve of the first departure, I gathered with the others in a cottage, where we read our work and got a mostly accurate Tarot reading. While we mused over the journal entries, I recalled women whose conversations swung between men and marriage alone, women who I’d cut out of my life for my well-being. And then this unexpected sisterhood. This glorious tribe.

On my last day in Hedgebrook, only two of us from the original cohort remained. I got through the breathless goodbyes and settled in for the drive to the port, trying not to sulk. As I boarded the ferry, I thought of a longing I’d shared in my Artist Statement: Hedgebrook as my very own backbone, guiding me across the murky waters of writing safely. And it did.

 

By Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

When you look back on your life, what will be the measure that it mattered? I used to think the answer had something to do with small people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. It felt like my life’s purpose and I was impatient to get to it. But I also wanted to write.

I celebrated my 29th birthday at Hedgebrook with a garland of flowers picked from the gardens and a chocolate cake baked specially for the occasion by one of the gorgeous chefs. In the toilet room of Cedar cottage, days into my residency, I broke down in sobs. An empty bladder and two pink lines explained the nausea I’d had since my arrival. I was abuzz with mitosis.

Six weeks later I returned home with a draft of my first novel and three months pregnant.

That was decades ago – my 50th birthday jingles at the far edge of August. Little people are no longer little. In fact, they’ve all but left me. So what have 21 years since Hedgebrook taught me about what matters?

In those quiet days, in which lunch was delivered to my door, and dinner awaited me in the farmhouse, I learned an allegiance to my own creativity I’ve never lost (my tenth book Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it is about to be released by Hay House). But I also recall the bookshelf in the loungeroom, packed with books written at least in part, at Hedgebrook. I thought then, ‘No-one can ever call you an oxygen-thief, Nancy.’

Though motherhood intervened for a while, I dedicated myself to my writing for thirteen years.

But in 2012, my 8th book, commissioned by one of the Big 5 publishers, tanked. Two years of writing and therapy which chewed up the humble advance (I figured a book on intimacy required deeper self-knowledge), and I found myself at an expensive lunch with my publisher (a deadly omen) where she broke the news that the book had ‘unfortunately slipped through the cracks.’

She paid for the lunch and never responded to another email I ever sent. And that is the story of how one skewed book derailed a career.

I felt broken and betrayed. I began to wonder if writing was a form of self-abuse. In this noxious state, I trashed the whole damn endeavour – writing wasn’t all joyous. It also made me lonely, anxious and jealous, never mind broke. I was through. It wasn’t worth it.

So in 2014, I invested all my life savings into a business course. I wanted to understand whether money and writing could coexist. I learned words like ‘funnel,’ ‘leverage,’ and ‘platform.’ It shocked me to realise how flawed the traditional publishing model is – not only for authors, but publishers too. I understood how essential marketing is to the success of any venture. I was ashamed to admit that I’d always expected publishers to ‘save me’ – to swoop in and create the success of my book. Uggh, it was just another iteration of entitlement, a victimized ‘poor me, I’m special,’ attitude.

I studied artists who challenge conventions like Seth Godin and Amanda Palmer. I investigated crowdfunding. I invested in courses on how to run a campaign.

I’d always facilitated workshops and writing retreats to supplement my income, but I realised that these were my income. My books were not, and maybe never would be. My allegiance shifted from my own writing to supporting others to write. This felt meaningful and purposeful.

My focus now is almost exclusively on helping aspiring authors find their voices, write their stories and get published.

I recently ran a free 7 day writing challenge. It attracted over 2000 people from all over the world. My new online writing course The Author Awakening Adventure just kicked off with 130 aspiring authors. I am currently mentoring 18 women writers towards publication. My next big step is to become a publisher to ensure these books make it into the world.

I want my own shelf stacked with books by the writers I’ve nurtured. All that’s left is for me to buy some land, with a couple of gypsy caravans and invite writers to take up residence.

I teach my writers to take control of their destinies. In the process I’ve stopped looking ‘out there’ and am becoming the answer to all my own problems. And I have never been happier.

 

 

JOANNE FEDLER
www.joannefedlerwritingretreats.com

www.joannefedleryourstory.com

www.authorawakening.com

By Anne Liu Kellor

Growth, Stubbornness, and Working on a Memoir for (something like) Ten Years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel ashamed when people ask if I’m still working on the same book. Yes, for almost a decade now I’ve been working on a memoir, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL, with some periods away from it in between. Most of the chapters originated during my time in grad school from 2004-2006, although many of the seeds of those pieces had already been planted during the years I lived and wrote in China from 1999-2002. And in some respects, you might say I’ve been working on this book since the day I was born.

This book has taught me a ton—about the process of writing and about myself. I have grown so much as a writer over these years that I have felt compelled to go back and rewrite most of the pieces, again and again and again. And because it’s a book about discovering myself during my twenties—and I started writing it while still in my twenties—it’s also a book whose deeper meaning has been elusive and unfolding as I’ve grown as a person.   Read more

By Ann Hedreen

Doll’s House

“Teenage Girl Blossoming into Beautiful Object,” proclaimed a recent headline in the Onion. The faux-newspaper goes on to describe the high school junior’s, quote, “staggering metamorphosis from a young girl with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations into a truly stunning commodity.” This kind of nailing-of-truth-through-satire is what makes me a great fan of the Onion: where writers specialize in humor that makes you wince. And think: about the truth behind the laugh.

The struggle of young women—to be treated as persons, not objects—is not a new theme. It’s not a “problem” we’re going to “solve” overnight. It is a chronic danger; one that burbles up over and over again, in every corner of the world. In many places, more poisonously than others.   Read more

By Robin Swicord

Five Essential Elements of a Great Beginning

When I watch a movie, the story hooks me within minutes – roughly the first 10 to 15 pages of the screenplay – or not at all. When I’m not hooked, I may not always walk out (or turn off the TV), but as I continue to watch I remain aware of myself residing outside the movie in a disengaged way, waiting for the movie to end.

Believe me, that’s not the experience a filmmaker wants the viewer to have.

In those first critical minutes of a good movie, the storyteller seduces the viewer with an irresistible invitation: Come inside and play. I think there are five essential elements that contribute to a great start:   Read more

By Joan Moritz

Helen and Aldo

This is the story of a Hedgebrook alumna who was conned by a marmalade cat. Or maybe this is the story of a woman searching for family who recognized a feline soul mate. It is definitely the story of a poet of witness who died before her work was done.

Helen Eisen was born in a displaced persons camp in 1946 to Polish survivors of the Holocaust. She grew up in New York City, and spent most of her adult life in St. Louis. As a poet, her work was deeply influenced by the Holocaust — both as experienced by her parents and as transmitted to her as a child of survivors — and by the immigrant experience. Issues of family, loss, survival and belonging were central to her writing.   Read more

By Kate Thompson

Who Cooks for You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He flew on silent wings; one swoop and his talons grazed the top of her head. She didn’t see him coming. She was walking down the forest path to her cabin after a hearty meal at the farmhouse. It was twilight, drizzly and she was alone. Before she thought to run, he went in for a second swipe. This time, she left sprinting and even though her cabin was closer, she ran back to the farmhouse to warn us.

This was my first night as a writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers located on Whidbey Island, WA. The writers’ cottages are tucked away in the forest amongst cedars and furs, pines and hemlocks and vine maples. In owl territory, it seemed. Funny, the packet I received when I was awarded the Hedgebrook residency, mentioned deer and bunnies, not crazed owls.   Read more

By Susan Rich

Thank you to the wonderful women, to Hedgebrook and to SAM

Thank you to the wonderful women who came out yesterday to my ekphrastic poetry workshop at the Seattle Art Museum sponsored by Hedgebrook.

I’m always utterly amazed and humbled by women who put themselves in my hands; who allow me to share what I know about poetry and art. Writing is often a solitary experience and we writers tend toward the shy side. But here were 23 women, most whom I had never met before. They came out to learn about the history of visual art and poetry and finally to share their work. We had women that were in their first poetry workshop and women who are well published. There were photographers, journalists, gallery owners and even a gospel singer!   Read more

By Caren Gussoff

The Monster in the Laundry Basket: Professional Jealousy in the Open

Part I

I knew I’d found a keeper when my boyfriend-at-the-time barely flinched the first time he saw one of our fights, word-for-word, in print. “You writers,” he said. “You air your dirty laundry. That’s how it is.”

We not only air our dirty laundry, we turn each piece inside out, study the seams, stinks and stains, so we can proudly, faithfully reproduce it onto garments of our own design.

And it was this same man — now husband — who pointed out the quixotic duplicity of my reaction to hearing award nominees (I wasn’t one, but I knew many of them) made public one February afternoon. He pounded me on my back (as I choked on my own dirty laundry), and asked, “Family, friends, lovers, illnesses and personal catastrophes — big or small — are all fair game — why not this?”

“What?” I asked in response, hoping the answer wasn’t obvious.

It was. “Jealousy,” he said. “Professional jealousy.”   Read more

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