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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 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 Hedgebrook Staff

A Love Letter to Ellen McLaughlin

First, you have to understand that last weekend I got to play bocce ball with Ellen McLaughlin. And that our team won. It was an informal gathering for the annual Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival, of which she is a two-time alum. I was completely theatre geeking out. I surreptitiously snuck away to my iPhone at one point during the game to text a friend from college “OMG, I am playing bocce ball with the original Angel from Angels in America!”

And then she blessed my iPhone.

Ok, she didn’t exactly bless it, but she spilled a little bit of red wine on it. I took it as a sign that the theatre gods and goddesses were particularly pleased with me.   Read more

By Minal Hajratwala

Nondualism: Writing/Not Writing

Editor’s note: The following post is being republished from Hedgebrook Writes!

 

Regret

Mid-Monday.  I feel bad that I haven’t written more, haven’t written much this weekend.

Luckily, I’m now intimate with the voices in my head. So I suspect this is a lie.  Time to take inventory. Since Friday morning, I’ve written:

• several thousand meandering journal-y words on gender, armor, rootedness, displacement, travel, destabilization & its gifts

• a draft of a film/culture commentary that I may or may not publish

• a long dialogue with a writer friend, more about gender, hair, transitions of various sorts

• a piece of flash fiction that emerged from Genine’s prompts (“poses”)

• and, oh yes, this and my previous blog post

Actually that’s quite a bit.  And this is my regular pace these days; I didn’t do much special for the Hedgebrook weekend.

I am working steadily, yet I realize (again) how constant this feeling is:  not working/writing/doing/being enough.

How good I am at saying to myself, “but that doesn’t count. That’s not real writing.”   Read more

By Tamiko Beyer

Dreaming Into Writing

Editor’s note: The following post is being republished from Hedgebrook Writes!

Hello dear writers, fellow Hedgebrook women, and dreamers. And so it begins!

I’m thinking today about what comes before writing, about what must come before writing. The dreaming, the meditating, the napping, as Minal writes in her post.

I’ve just come back from a few days in Cape Cod. It’s become a tradition for my partner and I to head to that sandy, windy landscape in the spring. Our generous friends let us stay in their guest house before the summer season starts and the paying renters come.

There’s a kind of quiet that permeates the land and the small coastal towns when we go. The deep freeze of winter is over, the sun is out and shining, but the wind still blows cold and the tourists haven’t yet arrived en masse. It feels as if we – the land and the animals and the people – are stirring in half-dreams, half-waking.

 

 

 

 

 

  Read more

By Genine Lentine

The Possible’s Slow Fuse

Editor’s note: The following post is being republished from Hedgebrook Writes!

Perhaps one condition of a capacity to imagine abundant possibilities is to then feel bereft at the intractability of executing even a small percentage of them.  I sometimes have the wherewithal, within that bereavement, to entertain the theory that perhaps all those possibilities can funnel into whatever it is that I manage to do.   Still, I feel a lag and then slow things down further by thinking everything takes me way too long.

Sometimes when this happens I try to steer into the spin by exaggerating the (perceived) torpor.  If it’s taking me forever to finish an essay, well, what if I decide to work on it twice as slowly?  The first  time I tried this strategy, as is probably not a surprise, I finished the thing (in that case, an application) with startling alacrity.  I short-circuited all the labor it was taking to have the constant stream of assessment of pace and then when that energy was freed up to do the actual work, everything came together readily.

The gleam of an heroic Act
Such strange illumination

 

The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
By the imagination.
Emily Dickinson, #1687

image: p. 14 of Slug or Snail: An Assay on Velocity and Viscosity. (unpublished ms.) You can see more of this book, slowly, one page at a time here

 

By Minal Hajratwala

The Writer’s Clock

Editor’s note: The following post is being republished from Hedgebrook Writes!


Far away from Hedgebrook: the other side of the planet. Spoke with B, N, and M — there are four of us alumnae in India, that I know of! — but our idea to meet across our distances and excitements did not work out.    Read more

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