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by Nassim Assefi

In 1980, at the age of 7, I moved to Seattle. Almost immediately, I started plotting my escape.  This had to do with my inner landscape more than my outer one, but I only saw that in retrospect. I was an awkward kid who skipped grades and started university in my early teens.  It was no surprise that I never fit in. After going to college on the East Coast, I returned to the Emerald City for medical school, but that did not improve my sense of belonging. I vowed to leave again for specialty training and did.  But during my last year of med school, something changed the way I started feeling about my home town, and that was a 2-month residency at Hedgebrook.

At Hedgebrook, nobody judged me because of my young age (I was 24 by then), or the fact that I was an unpublished writer, or that I had grown up schooled in science, not literature.  What mattered was that I was serious and passionate about writing. At Hedgebrook, I began writing an immigrant woman’s story about motherhood and its accompanying landmines of the heart. I had no direct experience with parenthood at the time and it would take another decade for this intuitive flight of empathy and imagination to be published in the form of my novel Aria. In addition to finishing the first draft of Aria, something equally important happened for me at Hedgebrook. It was the first time in my life I was authentically myself, identified as a writer, and felt wholeheartedly accepted.  I had found my place of belonging, my spiritual home. Anais Nin once said: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive.” It seemed every person I met at Hedgebrook or through Hedgebrook changed my world somehow.

Before leaving Hedgebrook (once again to return to the East Coast), I wanted to share my moving experience and the beautiful retreat with my friends and family in Seattle, and wished to introduce the festivities of Persian New Year (Iran’s most important holiday, coinciding with the first day of spring) to my Hedgebrook sisters. Somehow, I convinced the staff to let me throw a big party in the Longhouse.

Over the years, I kept returning to Seattle, but never stayed for long. Three summers ago and back at Hedgebrook, there was a boxing boot camp meant to help us unblock our writing.  I had no interest in the sport of boxing and my writing seemed to be flowing fine (this time, a novel about the promises and perils of humanitarianism in Afghanistan), so it took a lot of convincing to make me go.  The boxing coach, Carla Wilcox, turned out to be a gifted healer, who worked at the spirit level to help me break through my internal barricades. I was in the midst of a divorce and sorting out how I could become a mother as a single woman as my reproductive clock ticked loudly. Though nonviolent by nature, and a girl without brothers who had not grown up hitting anything or anyone, I found that punching as hard and fast as possible shifted something deep within me. I was so energized that I stayed up all night and finished the draft of my 2nd novel. I also gained clarity about how I would proceed to pursue motherhood.

This spring, I realized my dream of becoming a mother. As the Persian New Year arrived and reminded me of my 15 year anniversary with Hedgebrook, I wanted more than anything for my daughter to know this magical place that had birthed me as a writer and given me a sense of deep community and some of my closest friends. I wanted her to be connected energetically to this web of wonderful women, restorative nature, and generosity of spirit. Once again, the staff at Hedgebrook kindly allowed me to realize my vision in a celebratory gathering.

Yesterday, 25 friends (including Nancy Nordhoff and her daughter Grace, who serves on the Hedgebrook board, and Carla the boxer), writers, and Hedgebrook staff gathered around a Japanese maple between Waterfall and Meadow House, facing Useless Bay and a Cherokee Dogwood honoring Wilma Mankiller, and blessed my daughter. With poetry linked to the earth and words of love, my daughter was anointed with Hedgebrook soil and touched her first tree. Following the ceremony, we had a feast in the Longhouse.  It was the equivalent of both coming out party and baptism for my baby girl.

This is the gift of Hedgebrook, the legacy of her radical hospitality. Not only does she offer us blessed solitude to explore and advance the deepest parts of our writing, but she gives us loving community at all stages of our creative work and personal development. Bringing my daughter to Hedgebrook, it felt like the seeds of personal transformation that had been planted in me 15 years ago–much like the cycle of gestation and percolation that my writing requires–had finally sprouted. I was home and happily so, with no plans to leave.  It seemed utterly appropriate that Nancy Nordhoff read these words of Simone Weil to my daughter as we gathered around the young tree: “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

 

 

 

Nassim Assefi
About Nassim Assefi

4 Comments

  • Christina Rinnert
    1:38 AM - 28 April, 2012

    This is gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Though we’ve never met, I am certain that your daughter is very blessed to have you as a mother.

  • Jen Marlowe
    7:58 PM - 28 April, 2012

    Nassim…beautiful. And, was so honored to be able to share that moment with you and your precious daughter.

  • Nassim Assefi
    9:43 PM - 1 May, 2012

    Thanks much, Christina and Jen! BTW, Photos taken by Nancy LeVine, Brown Eyes Gallery, http://www.browneyesgallery.com

  • Donna B Barnes
    5:34 AM - 2 May, 2012

    Beautiful words and writing. It reminded me of my residency in 1995 when my daughter, who had just graduated from college said, “Mom, I am coming to visit you.” I was not sure that I could have visitors, but she came. In some intuitive way, she knew how important this residency was for me as writer. She was 17 then, and at 49 she continues to be my cheer leader, knowing the process of creativity and how to support me.
    Nassim, you are so very fortunate to have a daughter.

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