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by Iquo B. Essien

A small group of alums met for a day of writing, reading and fellowship at Hedgebrook(lyn)—organized by alums Mary Armstrong and Holly Morris, who runs the PowderKeg, an urban writers’ retreat where we met.

At ten o’clock in the morning we had tea and fruit and chatter in the kitchen.  We later planted ourselves at a handful of ancient writing tables spread throughout the loft, overlooking a row of windows with a view of Flatbush Avenue.  I picked a table in the center of the room, just far enough from the windows that I wouldn’t be tempted to stare outside. Sitting there in quiet community, a story visited me about black women, depression and suicide that has been circling my creative mind for years.  It is something like Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf, but different.

As I wrote, I thought about a friend of a friend who jumped into the Hudson River a few years back.  I had spent some time at the park recently, gazing into the murky water and wondering at which exact spot she stood before she jumped.  The memories of both this girl and a NYU film student, who took a swan dive off the Tisch building in 2003, have lived in my imagination for years.

I have always flirted with the prospect of losing my mind. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar became one of my favorite books when I wrote a high school paper about women driven to madness.  Back then, without a language to describe the way I felt (read: depressed), I thought mental health was a uniquely middle-class white female phenomenon.  I wrote my feelings in a journal, to which I owe my writing life, and watched with quiet surprise as other friends, mostly minorities, battled their own demons in college. Then my mother died, in October 2002, at the beginning of my senior year.

On a short break from writing, walking the tree-lined streets of Fort Greene, I reflected back on that time. It was seven years later, in October 2009, when I went to Hedgebrook. Having spent the better part of those years in and out of therapy, drifting from odd job to odd job, I found myself writing a novel about a grieving daughter who struggled to emerge whole after her mother’s death.  Inwardly, I vacillated between wanting to live, to survive my mother, or simply curl up and let the rest of my life wash over me like a wave.

Coming to Hedgebrook(lyn), I realized that most of those questions have been resolved in the past two years since I left the woods.

Writing has become my anchor; it keeps me from falling into the deep end. With time and space to write at Hedgebrook, I found my voice and a powerful creative life force in me that’s been impossible to ignore.  For this reason, I owe much of my sense of purpose and being to that experience.

And as we shared our work over a healthy dinner, after a day of writing, I read an excerpt from a memoir about my late mother that I’ve been working on this past year.  Indeed, it was the conviction I found after Hedgebrook that gave me the courage to leave my job and spend several months traveling and interviewing family in Nigeria.  Today I no longer flirt with the prospect of losing my mind.  I may write about people who have lost their minds, but I, instead, choose to write. To hang on. To keep moving forward one word at a time.  That makes me courageous and bold and strong in ways that only I can be.

So I write on, silencing the din of the city, trying to find my way back to that special place in the woods with the women and the dahlias on Whidbey Island.

Iquo B. Essien





Iquo B. Essien
About Iquo B. Essien

1 Comment

  • work at home for moms
    2:52 PM - 28 November, 2011

    fantastic post, very informative

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