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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 Kuri Jallow

Kelly Ford – Head of Housekeeping

I very recently came to be the head of housekeeping at Hedgebrook…how’s that for alliteration? I digress…

I came to Hedgebrook as a part-time, back up housekeeper to the backup housekeeper. A dear friend and now roommate was filling in on a temporary basis as a housekeeper. She asked if I wanted to train as an extra hand. I was in a failing marriage at the time and idea of being a steward to such an amazing institution on a beautiful property was hard to resist and so I said yes…

Long story, short, I was enamored and grateful to spend time on the property and peek into the inner workings of such a serene place.

The work I do is not complex, or mentally challenging for that matter. But, it IS sacred, methodical and meditative. I restore chaos to order. Clear out the old to make way for the new. Over and over and over. Yet, I do not find this mundane boring or beneath me. I cherish this work. It is good, honest and pure, I simply make everything nicer and more beautiful than it already is. I help make an amazing place, more amazing for amazing artists…who repay me, the world with art, beauty and words to fill our hungry souls.

The land itself is a balm for the soul, a beauty beyond words, respite, retreat, and HOME. So those whose words I long to read, are inspired, nourished and restored, so they may create my future memories and inspirations, It’s a win-win situation…on every level.

The failing marriage, finally failed, more alliteration.. and I took over as head of housekeeping. After a bit of a learning curve and a few meltdowns, I found my groove. My incredible colleagues now family, held me. , supported me and trusted in me…so many blessings. I was an emotional wreck and tried to keep a brave face in the midst of my own personal storm…and my new family never gave up on me. Because that’s the bigger part of the story. Hedgebrook is so much more than a retreat for writers… it’s a retreat for us ALL.

It’s a magical place of acceptance and healing, so one may hear her inner voice and learn to trust it

My inner voice urged me to ask if I could stay in a cottage over Christmas, as it would be my first ever alone. I just wanted to know. These precious cottages, that we lovingly scrub and polish.. and the forest with its owls and ravens, and the bathtub, and the peace…I wanted to know what it is like to be a part of this gift. To feel the serenity the writers must feel, or the loneliness, or the fear or the joy. All of it. I wanted to know. I asked. Vito said yes. I was ecstatic! Alone on the property. I brought Christmas lights, flameless candles, music, books, art supplies, good food and even, tap shoes! I turned down all invitations from well-meaning friends who wished to cheer me up… I was cheerful and I wanted to be there. Alone. On Christmas.

I got to start my own fire. I build them daily.. and, its good to know that the one match technique works! I also learned that fires need to be well tended.. and there will be many treks to the woodshed. Ashes will spill and fir needles will follow you in, no matter how careful you are. The dark and the quiet are so comforting, and one can feel such utter peace that it is humbling,

I walked the property, talked to trees, meditated, read, journaled and painted…I even practiced my tap dancing…and reveled in myself. There was only joy, freedom and wonder…

It snowed on Christmas Eve. A heavy, quiet, beautiful gift fell from the sky and filled my soul with such peace and happiness. To walk through the dark forest, to a claw foot bath tub was a meditation in joy. Queen for a day!

Christmas morning… dazzling snow-covered trees, my Christmas forest…the truest gift I’ve ever received. I felt as if I was chosen as the guest of honor at the most precious of celebrations. My heart was full and my joy immeasurable. And I understood. What goes on here. What it’s like to be nurtured and cherished by the universe. Where you can be yourself, and think your thoughts, and breath snow cleaned air, and be dazzled by natures best decoration.

And to think, that by tidying up and providing a clean, serene well-tended environment…I’m assisting in magical creativity and self-exploration. What more noble work than that? What we do at Hedgebrook is more than work… It’s a collaborative construction of radical hospitality.

Such an honor…to be a small part of such a big thing!

 

 

By Guest Author

A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki

It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings, the very last thing you bought in your own name years ago, back when you were flush and earned a healthy bimonthly paycheck. Yet that’s exactly what I did to attend Hedgebrook’s Master Class in Tuscany with Hannah Tinti. I didn’t need to return to Italy; I had just been there the previous year. But Hedgebrook is different. And the experience proved to be worth every penny.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to place a dollar value on my week there because this particular writers’ retreat was like no other. I want to call it magical, life-changing, life-affirming, all those other “feel-good” words you see on the cover of Oprah magazine because they’re all true. I’ve attended writers’ conferences before; I’ve been workshopped by rock-star authors. Hedgebrook delivered something different: community that’s committed to ensuring that every woman is heard.

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By Guest Author

The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

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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 Guest Author

Nostalgic for Some Radical Hospitality

What I wouldn’t give to be in the soothing, lulling calm of Hedgebrook Farms right now. I could use a little radical hospitality of the soul post November 8.

I had the good fortune to attend a Master Class last June and while I can’t say it radically changed my life I would definitely say it substantially altered the course of my work.

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By Guest Author

Alumna Reflection: Elissa Washuta

In 2009, nearing the completion of my MFA in creative writing, I sat in on a panel of faculty and alumni who shared their post-MFA experiences and let us in on their secrets of productivity after the quarterly deadlines disappeared. This was the first time I’d ever heard of a writing residency.

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By Guest Author

Alumna Reflection

I arrived to my Hedgebrook residency in February 2015 with a pile of grocery bag paper, fabric scraps, pens and glue sticks, and a few finished pages for my second book, Death Is Stupid. I was there to illustrate the story I’d written about a child facing his grandmother’s death while adults say stupid things to him, like “she’s in a better place.”

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By Guest Author

An Enchanted Summer at Hedgebrook

In the solitude at Hedgebrook I was pulled from the deepest darkest parts of myself, showing up as a writer each day. My daily routine that summer was a part of the process, waking up before sunrise, wandering through the silence of trees to the bathhouse, picking flowers in the garden for my cottage at Oak, making myself coffee and two boiled eggs from my basket—which was stocked each night in the main house with goodies for the next writing day—and returning to my desk to work until late afternoon.

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By Guest Author

You’re Here Because You’re Good

I received my acceptance letter from Hedgebrook in December 2013, a few months after I earned my MFA and returned to the Philippines with the intention of finishing a draft of my novel while living rent-free with my parents. It came at a time when I felt the pressure to prove to those who knew me that I was not flailing around after getting my degree or falling short of their expectations.

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