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By Jill McCabe Johnson

How I Didn’t Give Up on Hedgebrook Which is to Say, How Hedgebrook Didn’t Give Up on Me

The first time I applied to the Hedgebrook artist residency, my writing sample draggled all over the place with poems about eagles’ nests and walking the dog and my mother’s death. If memory serves me, that year Hedgebrook received something like 911 applications and awarded residencies to 50+ women writers. At the time, I probably told myself I was not one of the lucky writers. Now I know better.

Discouraged by the numbers, I didn’t apply again for another couple of years. That year, Hedgebrook received fewer applications. I still did not get in. My poetry, it seemed to me, was better than it had ever been. Was it not good enough? Was I not good enough?

In two years, I applied for a third time, now with nonfiction that addressed women’s issues. Maybe this was what the Hedgebrook judges wanted? Then again, perhaps not. Yet again, I was not accepted. It’s not that I thought I deserved a Hedgebrook residency. If anything, I started to look at my application as a donation. After all, the women who did get in were amazing — under-represented voices whose important works deserved the boost of Hedgebrook’s support. If I didn’t get in, at least I knew my application fee went toward supporting other women writers. Plus, Hedgebrook’s application fee had remained $30 while other residencies’ fees crept up to $35, $40, $50, and more. So I made my application/donation an annual event, then waited for their kindly worded rejection.

Hedgebrook poses a question to help applicants focus their proposals: Why Hedgebrook, Why Now? With each application cycle, I did my best to answer this question, but in retrospect, I see that I continued to explain what I thought the judges wanted to hear. In 2018, I responded in earnest. I’d been working on a poetry manuscript, The Disruption Regime, that contends with potentially catastrophic events in nature, politics, and history that have served as a stimulus for new growth. I had attended a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar program on the Native American West and also amassed a vast range of research. I sought time “to work uninterrupted and un-selfconsciously,” to “grapple with these issues and do the strange, undefinable dance of lifting and shaping them into poetry.” It was the most thorough and honest application, and therefore the best application, I’d ever submitted anywhere. I told my husband, if Hedgebrook doesn’t take me now, I’ll probably never get in.

In late fall, the notice arrived. Hedgebrook was granting me an artist residency. I spent three glorious weeks writing in Owl Cottage. A Hedgebrook volunteer helped me do more research, and each evening I was inspired by the remarkable women writers who gathered around the farmhouse table. After dinner, I perused the Hedgebrook library of alumnae works to read in my cottage for more inspiration. 

Equally inspiring were the voices of frogs, owls, and other nocturnal beasts who serenaded us through the night. Hedgebrook helped me revisit my work-in-progress in fresher yet more profound ways.

Bolstered by Hedgebrook’s belief in my work, a few nights before I departed, I sent query letters to a handful of agents for another work in progress: my memoir, Learning to Spar. By noon the next day, two of the agents expressed interest, and by Monday morning, there was a contract in my inbox. Sure, I might have found an agent without Hedgebrook, but I credit Hedgebrook all the same. They gave me the courage to send out that query.

Now, I think, what if I had given up discouraged after that first application? What if I had not taken the attitude that my application fee would do good in the world, regardless of whether I got a residency? I am grateful to Hedgebrook. I’m just as thankful to the other women writers who have applied, not necessarily expecting a residency so much as supporting a sisterhood of women writers. In that way, we are all supporting each other and all part of the magic that is Hedgebrook.

By Gabrielle James

Does your writing need a spring reboot? Here are three ways to create your own DIY writing retreat:

  • Take up space. At Hedgebrook, we have individual cottages, but you may want to rent an Airbnb for the weekend, pitch a tent in the woods, or go to a friend’s place.
  • Gather your community. Taking time to focus on your writing doesn’t have to be a completely solo endeavor. Inviting a few friends to come along can be helpful and motivating. Bounce ideas off each other, vent, nurture one another—but above all else, write!

  • Embrace the idea of “radical hospitality.” Whether you decide to retreat alone or with friends, treat yourself with care. Nourish your body with good food; make your space cozy and inviting with flowers, scented candles or music.

Need even more inspiration? Alumna Melanie Bishop speaks to the importance of writing retreats in this blog post. Your writing retreat really can be anything you want.

Don’t forget to share your DIY writing retreat with us! Many of Hedgebrook’s of over 2,000 alums love to stay in touch with us and regularly share their writing and lifestyle inspirations. Here’s a photo from Natalie Serber, one of our online class instructors:

Caption from Natalie Serber: Self-made writing retreat with my pal @jennieshortridge. We’re trying our best to capture the @hedgebrook zeitgeist of  #radicalhospitality by cooking great meals to nourish our writer minds!
 

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!

 

 

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How I Didn’t Give Up on Hedgebrook Which is to Say, How Hedgebrook Didn’t Give Up on Me
Does your writing need a spring reboot? Here are three ways to create your own DIY writing retreat: