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by Hedgebrook Guest

My son pulled the nipple from his mouth and Coke shot straight up his nose. He snorted, and coughed. I shushed him. He was barely heavy enough to hold the movie seat in the down position. Before 6pm a movie cost two dollars; my son got in free since he was still in diapers. The movie was Purple Rain. We were watching it for the fifth time.

In the middle of my first year of high school, I became pregnant with my son. I was fifteen, and amazingly, knew everything. Nobody could tell me how to live my life. I planned to leave school, have my baby (who would adore me at all times) get an apartment with a hammock for a bed, and a fancy job at an office. There, I would wear cat-eye glasses, and a pencil skirt, while taking dictation. First, I’d need to learn dictation, but that was a technicality.

The self appointed label, “Drop Out” followed me. It was a shame-shadow. It tapped my shoulder when others made literary references I’d never heard of. I would excuse myself, hide somewhere, dig out my notebook, and write down what I did not understand. Later I’d search the library for the original source, and read it. The whole book. This was my education.

Libraries were sanctuaries. To check out the maximum number of books allowed, simply walk out with them in a rolling cart? Freedom. Joyous, I-got-away-with-murder, freedom plastered a grin on my face as I cleared the revolving door.

Shame is a strange motivator. Without structure, imagination and curiosity directed my education. It may be the only reason I sustained a fire to learn instead of viewing it as a “Should”; an arduous journey to reach a destination.

The Dean of the Master of Professional Writing Program at a university where I was office manager/student liaison, asked me to never tell the students my educational history. He said it might make them think twice about attending grad school. I became The Shadow.

The baby boy with Coke in his bottle, is now a man (he still knows every word, to every song on the Purple Rain soundtrack). So are two of my four sons. My youngest is twelve, rapidly approaching the age where he too, will know it all. I have written steadily for the last fifteen years. Mostly poetry. A friend suggested I apply for a residency I could never hope to get. She said I should begin to collect rejections, while teaching myself how to get into a competitive residency in the future. Oh, what the hell. I did it.

One evening, I checked email at the kitchen table. When I read the acceptance to Hedgebrook, I burst into tears. My husband thought someone had died.

At Hedgebrook I met women writers who were professors, homemakers, healers, mothers, and lovers. We were every color, from many countries, vastly divergent economic situations, gay, and straight-ish. Hedgebrook taught me that diversity also includes levels of formal education. It includes life experience. It includes me.

The farmhouse table was set at 5:30 every evening. Screen door squeaked a greeting, and a basket of handmade slippers waited on the shoe-changing bench. I always chose the brown and teal. We were six writers who began, and ended our residency as a group. There were other writers who came to stay a shorter amount of time. These women added spice to our stew, and we missed each one after they departed. The land, cottage, and staff created a safe space unlike any I had experienced before.

Hedgebrook philosophy states that women like me, are an important part of diversity as they define it. Their radical hospitality shined a light, bright and warm, upon me. With open hearts, my Blood Moon Sisters extended their hands. They guided me until I had the courage to step into my rightful place among talented, dedicated writers. We did this for each other. Every evening one of us took a turn grasping offered hands. Little did I know the email acceptance to Hedgebrook did indeed foreshadow a death.

I am thankful to be a lifetime learner. I am thankful I did not know one couldn’t be a writer without a degree. I am thankful for my own path, but what worked to get me here, is no longer a valid tool.

RIP Shame-Shadow. Thank you, Hedgebrook.

About the Author:

Kelly_ClaytonKelly Clayton is a poet, and fiction writer who teaches writing workshops in local schools,The Lafayette Juvenile Detention Center, and Summer Youth Shakespeare Ensemble. A Creole with branches and roots from Louisiana since 1765. Her work has been published by Future Cycle Press, Delacorte Press, China Grove Press, among others. Kelly is a VONA/Voices, and a Hedgebrook Alumnae.

(Author photo by Teresa Burns)

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.  

Hedgebrook Guest
About Hedgebrook Guest


  • Sally P.
    10:36 PM - 27 November, 2014

    You are sugar in our bowl, dearest lady. Thank you for your beautiful free spirit and beautiful words.

  • Elissa Field
    5:40 PM - 4 December, 2014

    Kelly, Thanks so much for sharing your story. You are wonderful for letting shame or hardship become fuel to strengthen you, and to have claimed your own identity. I’ve seen myself how hardship can (if you choose) free you so much more than easy success. Thanks for sharing your Hedgebrook experience.

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