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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 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 Hedgebrook Guest

The Prize is in the Process

Another year, another Hedgebrook application. Okay, so actually this was just my second time to apply, but it’s already feeling like a periodic exercise in futility, kind of like cleaning the dog-hair off the sofa, or casting my vote as a democrat living in East Texas. And yet, just like cleaning and voting, it’s important to remember that the prize is in the process, not the outcome. The truth is, I’ve already reaped a benefit from Hedgebrook and all I did was answer a few questions and pay them $30.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Writer, with a Capital “W”

I applied to Hedgebrook nearly twenty years ago as a young poet with a journalism day job and a love for putting words together.

Today, dozens of proposals later, I teach artists and writers how to write kick-ass proposals. We work on writing applications that are Shiny, Persuasive, Authentic, Real, and – of course – Killer.

That spark is what makes an application leap from the pile. Sometimes it comes out naturally and easily the first time; often, it can be coaxed and elicited through a smart writing and revision strategy.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

You Should Apply to Hedgebrook!

“How do you tame a wild tongue, train it to be quiet, how do you bridle and saddle it? How do you make it lie down?” (Gloria Anzaldúa)

“You should apply to Hedgebrook!” is one of the most rewarding suggestions that I have heard since my arrival to the United States from Palestine in Fall 2004. The first time I heard this magical phrase was in Spring 2006, when I attended the American Ethnic Studies conference in San Francisco. I was then in the process of moving from the University of Oregon to the University of Washington to pursue my PhD in Comparative Literature.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Three Weeks at Hedgebrook

The year was 1996. I recently finished graduate school and had started teaching in the California Poets in the Schools program.

Desperate to complete my first book, I wanted to find time and space just to write. Though I lived alone in a small cottage by a creek, I was constantly teaching, reading, commenting on the poems of my students, making ends meet. I was involved with many friendships and embroiled in family matters. It’s an old story.

I needed to find sustained, unburdened-by-demands-of-real-life time to put pen to paper. I needed space and quiet to focus. So I applied to Hedgebrook. I applied for a six-week stay. I applied during the summer, when I wouldn’t be teaching.    Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Experience Radical Hospitality

Gloria Steinem, who serves on our Creative Advisory Council, describes Hedgebrook this way: “It’s as if women have taken their 5,000 years of nurturing experience and turned it on each other.”

At the core of Hedgebrook’s Writers in Residence program, Master Classes and weekend writing salons is the philosophy that we have lovingly coined “radical hospitality.” This translates into comfortable lodging, delicious food and a setting that provides complete control over how she spends her time, a peaceful setting in nature, and the company of other women writers. In short: everything you need to nurture your soul and your creativity.   Read more

By Hedgebrook Guest

Why Receiving a No from Hedgebrook Was a Yes

December 19, 2014:

Dear Katarina,

Thank you so much for applying for a 2015 Hedgebrook residency.

We received 1,466 applications for 2015 and are able to offer 40 residencies. Though your application did not advance into the final round this year, we want you to know that your work resonated with our reviewers.

Sending your work into the world is an act of bravery, and we appreciate the opportunity for our reviewers to experience your voice.

We’d like to share our selection process with you, so you know the thoughtful time and attention your work received. Two Hedgebrook alumnae, who take their role in this process to heart, read your application and collaborated to select applications to continue further into the adjudication process. All applications are anonymous, and any reviewer who recognizes an applicant will recuse herself. Applicants who advance are reviewed by a three-member committee of readers in cities across the country, and then by a five member selection committee in the final round.   Read more

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