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by Corinne Cavanaugh

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.

When Hedgebrook talks about creating a safe space for women to freely discuss their ideas, their struggles, their obstacles, their motivations, as well as share their emotions without judgment, I now understand what this means. What does this look like? It’s 10 other women sitting with me at a large table, including our instructor Hannah Tinti, whose latest book is the critically-acclaimed “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley”; our lovely host and generous owner of Ca’ di Pesa, Jessika Auerbach, and writers from all over: Alaska, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Boston, as well as the executive director of Hedgebrook, Amy Wheeler and her wife Kate who joined as hosts. Each of us came to the table with our own histories, and each of us was willing to listen to the other. There were no divas. It was a group dynamic like no other. We complimented others’ strengths, admitted our vulnerabilities, shared our fears, teased each other and enjoyed plenty of R-rated humor and nonstop laughter. Safe space meant doing crafts with Hannah, doodling in our journals, mapping out plot points in our narratives, brainstorming, asking questions, offering suggestions. Then we would eat at the table together like it was Thanksgiving, and rave over the olive oil and wines Jessika’s property produces.

All of this is meaningful beyond measure. I grew up with a critical mother. I don’t have any sisters. Relatives live in different states, and no one really keeps in touch. Over the years, I’ve collected a group of female friends who I consider sisters, but everyone is scattered across the United States, and Facebook posts can only do so much. I do not live on a street where neighbors say “hello” to one another. I come from a corporate background where there’s no such thing as safe space, where one’s ideas and opinions are constantly challenged, especially if you are female.

For one week in Italy, I got a break from all that. I was part of a unique circle of women who emphasized trust, encouragement, and creativity free of judgment. Within days of our retreat ending, after flying off our separate ways, crisscrossing the globe to return to our homes, families, jobs, the emails began. About how much we missed each other and our week in Tuscany together. About how much we all feel changed by the week we just shared. About how much we all feel inspired by each other. About how much we all learned from each other. About when we might see each other again. My sense was that whatever stresses were going on in our lives—and everyone had their share—we were all eager to recreate what Hedgebrook had helped create for us, to nurture that environment of trust that Hedgebrook and all of the attendees upheld. At home, with my own deadlines, parenting obligations, and juggling, I think about what I learned not just from Hannah but from everyone there, what I experienced, the friends I’ve made, the extraordinary memories, and how enriched my life has become by that one week. Lucky me, I keep telling myself. Lucky me.

About the Author:

Katrina Woznicki has been a journalist for 20 years, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post; National Geographic Traveler; The Los Angeles Times; The Boston Globe; Elle; Catapult; The Week; US News & World Report, and many other publications. She is a contributing writer to Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel.

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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Corinne Cavanaugh (contractor - inactive)
About Corinne Cavanaugh (contractor - inactive)
former contractor. owner/operator at donorswell.com


  • Sue Frause
    1:15 PM - 2 November, 2017

    A heartfelt piece about Hedgebrook in Tuscany … thanks for sharing.

  • Mary Sojourner
    12:28 AM - 3 November, 2017

    You lost me at this: ” It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings,” I suspect that if you want to have your readers identify with your experience, you need to remember that very few of us have stock holdings to sell off – especially most women.

    3:40 PM - 6 November, 2017

    Sadly, that’s very true, Mary. I grew up rural working class in a single-mom household. When I was in high school, my mother earned $18,000 a year as a contract secretary. This was 1989. I took on student loans to go to college, the first in my family to attend, and when I started working in my 20s, around age 25, I began investing small amounts of my paycheck into a mutual fund, and then I started buying stocks and investing gradually. I did it in increments until my investments grew. Now, my investments are gone, and I need to financially rebuild, in increments once again.

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A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki