The Magic of my Hedgebrook Experience

By Shimi Rahim

Categories: Alum Experiences,

It built slowly, the magic of my Hedgebrook experience. When I first began settling into my cottage and the daily writing routine that would define the next two weeks of my life, I felt out of sorts. Hedgebrook was legendary among women writers. Did I expect that I’d walk into my storybook cottage and, like some writer’s fairy tale, the words would pour magically from my fingers? That, with solitude and three meals a day provided for me in a gorgeous setting, I would spend every waking minute churning out chapters of my first novel?

Instead, what I experienced in my early moments was rather different: feelings of unworthiness, confusion as to how to structure my day, and not a small amount of loneliness and strangeness. My fellow residents were published authors, experienced teachers, activists with years of experience under their belts. I felt small next to them and their achievements, due in no part whatsoever to them and entirely to my own insecurities. Also, they had developed a camaraderie into which I didn’t yet belong.  

But then. The women reached out, with invitations to go on walks, hikes, bike rides to the beach, and short trips to explore Whidbey. I read my work aloud to the others, and two different women later spoke to me of how my novel about coping with mental illness resonated with them because of their own experiences. The women around me were generous, kind, caring, and utterly inspiring in every way, openly sharing their stories and their hearts. The power of being in their company, as much as the splendid natural environment, the peaceful beauty of my cottage, and the wholesome meals, began to feed my spirit and open my heart to write freely and without fear. To trust, as they trusted me and as I trusted them.

Every day, at five o’clock in the afternoon, I walked from my cottage to the farmhouse for the communal dinner. As I approached, the voices of women talking and laughing wafted from the open door of the kitchen, and my heart soared.

This is the true magic of Hedgebrook, the secret of what distinguishes it from other residency programs. It’s the women, the most amazing individuals I’ve ever met—and continue to meet, thanks to expanding alumnae outreach efforts that include linking alumnae in our communities and providing everything from professional development seminars to readings to write-ins. The spirit of Hedgebrook women and their important work continues to inspire and motivate me every day.

So if you feel the need for an infusion of the Hedgebrook magic, get in touch with alum in your area (Liz Engelman, Hedgebrook’s alumni coordinator, can help with that (alum@hedgebrook.org). Attend an upcoming event. Get involved. The power of Hedgebrook extends beyond the boundaries of the Whidbey Island property to wherever each of us are.

3 Comments

  • Jen Marlowe
    12:32 AM - 9 June, 2011

    I notice that in your mention of bike ride to the beach you neglected to add “WITH CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!”
    so glad our HB time overlapped, Shimi! You were an integral part of the special camaraderie of our group!
    xo
    Jen

  • Naomi Williams
    6:20 AM - 9 June, 2011

    And you were kind not to mention that on one of your very first nights there I took you on a “short walk” that turned into a 4-mile hike through the dark!

    Wonderful post, Shimi. Brought back so many warm memories.

  • Amy Wheeler
    5:57 PM - 19 June, 2011

    You describe the power of this community of women so beautifully, Shimi. It’s an unexpected gift of a Hedgebrook residency – the camaraderie that happens around the table, on walks, when work is shared, and continues when you go back home. We’ve started calling it Hedgebrook’s Old Girl’s Network…or maybe it’s a New Girl’s Network.

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