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by Jan D'Arcy

It was August 1988. My son Tyler had been diagnosed with a chiasmic glioma. The brain tumor was not cancerous, but it had done horrific damage. Tyler was completely blind in his left eye and had very little sight left in his right eye. We went through multiple doctor’s appointments, tests, 6 weeks of radiation and still the tumor seemed to be growing. I was a single Mom, completely immersed in his care, taking care of my four other children and running a communications consulting business. I had published a small book and an audio cassette album. I was writing another book, but it definitely was not getting any attention. I heard about Hedgebrook but was reluctant to apply. I didn’t have anyone to stay with Tyler 24/7. I also thought there must be some catch about the offer of a free writing “vacation.”

When I heard that Children’s Hospital Camp Goodtimes had doctors, nurses and trained volunteers to oversee the children, I signed Tyler up for a week. I sent in my application to Hedgebrook and was amazed to receive notice that I was selected to go for the same week.

After waving goodbye to my son, I drove to a ferry and followed Nancy’s explicit directions to Whidbey Island. There was no one I could talk to about their experience and what to expect.

I’m embarrassed to say that I brought along a sleeping bag, a pillow and primitive camping gear. When I drove up to the gate at Hedgebrook, Nancy was waiting for me. She told me to keep going up the road and she’d follow me.

I came to a magical fairyland cottage in the middle of the woods. I waited for her to open the door, but she insisted on staying at a distance and watched while I carefully turned the knob and stepped inside. At once, I knew I didn’t need the sleeping bag or the camping equipment. It was very luxurious, down to the leather carrier for the wood – whose material I’d have coveted for a purse. I set up my stubby Mac computer and carried in two boxes of research. The first night I was so exhausted, I sunk into the comfy bed, covered myself with the down duvet and slept for 10 hours.

Nancy explained that I ‘d have my lunch delivered and then come to the farmhouse for dinner. What would I like to eat? I mentioned I liked veggies- beets, carrots, tomatoes- anything would be fine. The next day I saw her digging in the garden and realized she was digging the beets

I’d be eating an hour later for dinner. Chef Nancy definitely started the authentic Farm to Table restaurant. We had some wonderful conversations over dinner when she told me what led up to her creating a place for women writers. She was very concerned that my accommodations were acceptable, that I was comfortable, that I had everything I needed to work on my book. My mother was always supportive of anything I did. But in my current situation I wasn’t used to that much attention and professional regard for my creative ventures. I still was reluctant to call myself a writer. But I was determined to produce something worthy of this opportunity.

When I mentioned something about shrimp, Nancy drove to town and bought some. I was almost afraid to casually mention I liked something in fear she’d produce it. I soon realized we two were the only residents on the large property and she was the one dropping off my lunch and flowers. The workers came during the day and left. One day Nancy asked me if the gardener watering my flowers around my cottage was distracting. As a mother of 5 children, I had to stifle a laugh. At night, it was really silent in the woods. Since the woods are my favorite place to be, I was in 7th heaven. No responsibilities, no phone calls, no grocery shopping or anything to interrupt my writing. What a fantastic idea Nancy had imagined and brought to fruition!

Twenty years later, I returned to Hedgebrook for another week. This time there were four other writers. It was a very different experience as we had dinner together and then talked about the various projects we were working on. Nancy had given up her culinary duties and there was a cook and other workers around the property.  5 more cottages had been built. It was now a revolving community of women writers from all over the world.

My book had been published to good reviews. My communications business had taken off as well as my acting career. Writing was on the back burner again. My son had more medical challenges and lost all his sight. We had to deal with scary seizures from his epilepsy. Although he had a part-time job, he still needed daily help with most everything.  I had started another book and was grateful for this second time at Hedgebrook to solidify my objective.  Once again, the freedom that Nancy created took me out of my responsibilities in my everyday world. The nature and calmness of Hedgebrook surrounded me and helped me to believe in myself as a writer.


Jan D Arcy
About Jan D Arcy


  • Judy Bentley
    4:05 PM - 19 April, 2018

    How well you express the feeling of arriving at and being at Hedgebrook (but after all, you are a writer). I believe I followed you the second week in Oak Cottage, so glad someone else had written the first journal entry. We were two that week, so there was a bit more dinner conversation. Nancy took us out to eat one night, and I remember ordering a Cajun style fish (blackened?) that was too spicy hot for me to eat (unused as I was to much beyond meat and potatoes). I think they took it away and scraped some of the pepper off. My son was entering first grade about that time, and it was a hard week to be away, but I gained a sense of what it means to be a writer and to organize my day around writing that has never left me. Thank you, Nancy, and Hedgebrook.

    5:39 PM - 19 April, 2018

    wonderful story; thank you so much.

  • Donna Barnes
    7:20 PM - 19 April, 2018

    I too felt unworthy to be given a residency at Hedgebrook. Upon receiving my letter of acceptance, I cried, I was so grateful. I also could not call myself a writer.. When I called my daughter to share the news, she said, “You are a writer and Hedgebrook recognizes that.” Hedgebrook gave me the nourishment and encouragement that helped me grow into that label.
    Thank you for your story. And thank you to Nancy for creating Hedgebrook..

  • Deborah Davis
    8:14 PM - 19 April, 2018

    When I arrived at Hedgebrook in 2003, I had 100 pages of a novel already written—and the rest of it clamoring to come out. I’d had to set the novel aside due to travels and a nonfiction book deadline. During that 21-day residency I became a writing machine, stopping mainly to eat when hungry or take a daily walk. I woke early with owls hooting outside my cabin and went to sleep late to the howls of coyotes. During one three-day period I didn’t shower—I didn’t want to stop writing! It was awesome. I wrote 200 pages in 18 working days, and I finished the first draft of my novel. I learned what I can accomplish as a writer when I feel supported and can turn my attention fully to my writing. I treasure that experience of being fully in my writer self, being able to set aside all my other selves—mother, wife, teacher, editor, cat wrangler. I’m so grateful to Hedgebrook and to the women writers I’ve met there and at events post-residency!

  • Barbara Skelly
    10:00 AM - 20 April, 2018

    As a art therapist with over 30 years experience, and a newly published writer of Treasure Houses…at 75 years of age, I find this article very inspiring. I’m working on my second book: Madonnas and Ladies in Hats.

  • Nana Brew-Hammond
    4:00 PM - 15 May, 2018

    Thank you, Jan! Reading this took me back. How I miss the mental space to write without a pressing to-do looming in the corner of my brain, and the women I got to fellowship with.

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Hedgebrook’s First Writer in Residence Jan D’Arcy