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By Judith Sornberger

Sacred Conversation

My friend Alison Townsend and I frequently evaluate how our days and weeks have gone based on whether we have “kept the appointment with the desk,” as she calls the time we spend writing. It’s not so much a measure of how much we have—or have not—accomplished that concerns us, but rather the quality of our lives that feel vastly diminished when we aren’t writing on a regular basis. It’s easy to discount the importance of our own writing in the lives of others. Yet, I don’t know how I would have survived as a writer—or, indeed, as a woman—without the essays, books, and poems written by Alison and other women writers whose work I love.

Alison and I met 28 years ago when we had residencies at Hedgebrook. Although we’d both had poems published in literary magazines and anthologies, neither of us had had a book published, so we could hardly believe our luck at landing residencies there.

I arrived at my Hedgebrook cottage just in time to walk down the hill to the farmhouse to meet the other writers for dinner. Alison, Joanne Mulcahy (the other resident), Dolores, the cook and manager, and I ate borscht followed by blueberries with cream for dessert. That night we three writers walked back to our cottages together, pausing to watch the lunar eclipse and, in the safety of darkness, speak more intimately of our lives. As soon as I returned to my cottage, I headed to my “desk” and began a poem for which Alison and Joanne were my muses.

During the long writing days, I sensed them writing away in their cottages, imagining us as religious sisters in a Medieval Abbey, each of us doing our work in our cells, each making our small contributions to communal life. Although the subjects on which we wrote and our writing styles were unique, our writing seemed a kind of collaboration, as though we were silently engaging in a sacred conversation.

In the evenings, we talked about how the day’s writing had gone and read to one another from the day’s harvest. Hearing that I’d never read Mary Oliver’s poetry, Alison lent me her copy of Oliver’s Twelve Moons. And we talked about our lives back home and the men we loved. The morning Joanne was to drive to the ferry, several days before Alison and I were leaving, we walked her to her car. Tears soft as the morning rain slid down my cheeks as I retraced my steps to my cottage. In just ten days, Alison and Joanne felt more like sisters than strangers—a bond formed by writing and the magic of the place.

A few days after returning home, I sent Alison a postcard of goats that reminded me of Ozzie and Harriet, the pygmy goats we helped feed while at Hedgebrook. In return, I received a six-page handwritten letter. I’d never had anything like it before—six pages of her thoughtful and lyrical prose just for me! Our long letters flew back and forth—often accompanied by poems or essays—for decades, sending encouragement, appreciation, and stories from our lives. We became close enough that those letters became crucial healing balm when we lost those we loved
When Alison’s father died in 1999, I wrote, “I wanted to send an image that would comfort you, knowing there is no comfort for such a loss, yet also knowing how much your morning glory card, your phone call, and the book you sent meant to me when my father died. The best image I could think of was a cottage from Hedgebrook. Those cottages seemed to me to be wombs, dens of renewal and comfort. I would wish these things for you, Alison.” Along with the card, I sent Mary Oliver’ newest poetry collection.

Eventually, our letters have turned into emails—less exciting than long letters in the mail, but far more frequent, and supplemented by phone calls during which we comment on each other’s recent poems and essays and comfort each other though calamities, great and small. Joanne and I continue to send letters and writing—less frequent, but still precious. The three of us also celebrate one another’s publications, all having published multiple books by now.

Bruce, my husband of 25, years died five years ago, and the things that kept me alive in the following months were talks with my sister and friends and writing poems. I was also sustained by the poems and essays Alison and Joanne sent, keeping hope alive in me if only the hope that the mail would bring more of their words. The poems I was writing were about Bruce and me—about our lives together, my loss and widowhood, and about reclaiming joy. Alison read each one, helping me develop and edit them, and sometimes crying with me on the phone as we discussed them. The book, those poems became, Practicing the World, will be published by CavanKerry Press in 2018.

When I arrived at Hedgebrook all those years ago, I knew that I had been given the amazing gift of time for writing in a gorgeous place and that this gift had boosted my confidence in my writing enormously. But I never expected that it would give me a sense of deep connection to the other two writers who shared that time with me, that they would become for me a community that would expand, in my heart, to all women who write, all those with whom I feel myself engaged in sacred conversation.

By Vero González

Rona Jaffe Foundation – 2018 Hedgebrook Fellowship

A Hedgebrook residency is a gift of freedom from duty, from physical and emotional labor, a stripping away of everything nonessential until you—the purest essence of you—are all that remains & you discover that you are not scared of the dark & that you do like dancing taking long walks waking up early & the taste of fennel, hand-picked with love in the lush Hedgebrook garden.

Hedgebrook sisterhood means all the petty, jealous, competitive feelings you have harbored about other writers are replaced by generosity, love, enthusiasm & this process can be painful because you have to confront those feelings in yourself—but no matter what comes up for you in the woods, Hedgebrook can hold it.

After four weeks of relentless gifts, when I thought Hedgebrook had given me all it could, it handed me a final one.

Being awarded the Rona Jaffe Foundation fellowship is a vote of confidence, an affirmation to repeat over and over when self-doubt creeps in, a light showing me I am on the right path, an advance to help finance a dream.

You will write.

But it is not about the word count or your deadline or your ego & its expectations.  It is about the rituals that emerge when your usual structures fall away.  The way the light drops rainbows on your cottage floor.  The way Hedgebrook continues to feed you long after your last dinner.

It is the community you didn’t know you’d been waiting for, reaching out to hold you across the distance.

By Mary Volmer

The Vision Guiding the Bridging Retreat

Can you replicate the experience of a Hedgebrook Residency? In a word, no. We knew that in 2016 when we founded Bridging: A One-Day Hedgebrook Writers Retreat for Women.

What we could do, however, was embrace the concept of radical hospitality by opening the doors of our little campus and inviting women writers of all descriptions and disciplines, from all over the vast network of communities that make up the San Francisco Bay Area. We could offer them a taste of Hedgebrook: hours of uninterrupted writing time, great food, camaraderie and connections, and inspiration to propel them onward.

This was the dream that guided our first year. But it was the generosity of writers like Cherrie Moraga, our first keynote speaker – whose book This Bridge Called My Back lent us our guiding symbol – who offered the support we needed to build the retreat. Ultimately it was Moraga, and Anzaldua and Steinem and Hooks and Fowler and Robertis and a panoply of other feminist writers who brought us, over many byways and waterways to the college. They are all part the bridge on which we now stand. They offered us the language to express our intellect, our love, our outrage, and our hope.

In each successive year, in these terrible years, we have come together to kindle that hope, and to grow hope into action. We created a taste of Hedgebrook in the San Francisco Bay Area to support, as best we could, women authoring change.

By Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

I was to begin my residency at Hedgebrook on Sept 26, 2017. I came here, fully laden with a year’s worth of my very active and stressful life in NYC. I flew into Seattle a week early. I came to recuperate and restore. On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, my homeland and the setting for much of my work.

On the Internet, I saw the pictures of flooded streets, shattered houses, and weeping people who looked just like me and mine. The president sneered at our plight and went golfing, obliviously unconcerned about the suffering of the American citizens who live on the island. In addition to exhaustion, I was now filled with anxiety, helplessness, despair, and unimaginable rage. I had never expected much from our ‘leader’ but abandoning citizens to thirst, starvation, illness, and homelessness seemed a little much, even for him.

My first few days were filled with alternating weeping and nightmare-filled sleep. My third novel, the reason I came here, was left untouched. Meditation, my conduit to my creative voice, was impossible. Every time I was served a great meal or even poured a glass of cold water, I wondered how many people needed it more than me. Days passed and I found out my family had survived the hurricane but had lost a home and everything in it. I thought about leaving my residency and going straight to a devastated island. But communication was almost impossible and transportation even more so.

My ancestors have always been my guides and the source of my stories. But my conduit to them, meditation, was out of the question. So I took them with me as I walked the paths at Hedgebrook Farm. I didn’t walk far but I walked slowly and listened to the breeze in the trees and noted the inclines in the terrain and the colors of the foliage. The birds in the birdbath rejoiced in the sun and the lone owl outside my cottage kept me company. I opened myself to the healing power of the woods. I embraced quiet and solitude and I knew that I didn’t walk alone.

Slowly, the nightmares went away and the anger reduced from a raging flame to a simmering flicker. The darkness began to lift and I could sit and write and write and write. Writing has always been my refuge and my best weapon against injustice. Once I could sit in my journal and on my computer and connect with the story, I knew the healing had begun.

After the first week of my residency, a tiny bud of a plan began to unfold. What could I give my people to help in their healing? As the grassroots aid began to trickle in and other nations took up the monumental job of clean up, I searched for my contribution. And a tiny bud of a plan began to blossom.

When I leave Whidbey I will go home to New York City and join the grassroots relief effort there. As soon as there are reliable communications, I will contact my Puerto Rican counterparts on the island with my idea. After the monumental job of clean up, healthcare and infrastructure repair has begun. After the hospital, schools, community centers, and libraries begin to reopen, after the basic necessities of life are somewhat in place, I’d like to go down and work with my fellow writers to conduct writing workshops in community spaces. People will need some place to put their fears, their anguish, their nightmares, and hopefully, their dreams for the future. It is too early now. The healing of the bodies must come before we can begin the healing of the soul. And I hope I can be just a little part of that.

I am so grateful for my time on Whidbey Island and to the loving people, I found there. I’m glad I didn’t leave ahead of time. I’m glad I found a way of healing myself so that then I can try to heal others who will need to do so for many years to come. Thank you to the people of Hedgebrook, both staff, and fellow writers, who gave me a place to heal and restore in more ways than they could have ever imagined.

 

By Kathleen Alcalá

Kathleen Alcalá

In 1989, I was asked to interview Nancy Skinner Nordhoff about her new endeavor, a writing retreat for women. We spent part of a day talking. I think we drove from Seattle to Whidbey together, so she could show me what form her ideas were beginning to take, how her dreams were turning into something real. I had a lot of dreams too, so I was anxious to see what this looked like, given the resources.

Nancy described how her marriage had fallen apart, leaving her to reinvent herself from the good wife and good mother, roles she had filled to the best of her ability to – whatever she wanted or needed to be. She took a good hard look at what she saw for the future, and how to turn her considerable skills and assets into something practical and useful to those without such resources.

Nancy described a cross-country car trip and how she was drawn to rural spaces, found herself wanting to press her nose to the windows of farmhouses, yearning to join the circle of family she imagined inside. Her friend, a midwife, helped Nancy focus her yearning into a specific goal, a creative space where women could feel safe, didn’t need to do domestic work, and could support and encourage each other. It was a space in which their creative work could take precedence, and be their major focus, if only for a few short weeks. I could not help but wonder what was in this for Nancy. I have worked for non-profits most of my life, but understanding the motivations of people who, to me, seem to have so much more agency than the rest of us remains mysterious.

I remember feeling intense waves coming off Nancy. How I suddenly became a sounding board, and felt the need to be very careful not to say anything that would limit her exploration. I am generally tone deaf when it comes to other’s emotions. In addition, I was a bit overwhelmed with my own emotions that day. I admitted my recent failure at retaining a leadership position at a difficult organization. It had happened so recently, that I was still in shock at how badly things had gone.

Nancy suggested that I spend some time myself at the residency, a chance at some stolen time in paradise.

So I had to share another secret with Nancy. There was a limited amount of time I could spend, even at a dream residency. What had started out as a general interview for publication was turning into a series of big reveals. Nancy offered me a residency at Hedgebrook for two weeks in the fall, when the first four cottages would be ready, and I agreed. This was probably late spring or early summer at the time.

In late September, my belly swelled out to there, I moved into one of the cottages. I know other Hedgebrook residents form deep attachments to their particular cottage. I have since stayed for short visits in two or three of them, and always loved all of them the way one loves her aunties. They have collectively nurtured me with their benign, nonjudgmental spaces. The murmuring trees, the talkative owls, the path through the cedar deep, all have combined to supply that “Yes, and…” that allows a writer to fill that blank space with her own words.

What I do remember are the other three women who stayed at the same time. Dana Stabenow, upon meeting me, promptly offered to deliver my baby if I went into labor early. She had EMT training! I demurred, politely I think, holding out for full term. Amy Pence was a poet, and the fourth, Susan Brown, was working on children’s books. All have produced several or many books since then, raised families of either books or children, and effected positive change in the world not only as writers, but as teachers, parents, philanthropists, and general wise women.

I had already written my first collection of stories by the time I got to Hedgebrook, but managed to produce the first forty pages of what would become Spirits of the Ordinary, my first novel, in the two weeks I spent on that magic isle. Oh yes: On October 19 of that year, my son Benjamin was born, the first “Hedgebrook baby,” and certainly the first male to spend the night in a Hedgebrook cottage. I had an easy pregnancy and birth, and I attribute much of it to the affirmation I received at Hedgebrook. Looking back, I see how much more of the world Nancy understood than I did at that time, that giving women time and creative space might be one of the greatest ways to heal the earth, and oneself. I have tried to give back in my own way, mostly through teaching, but also by trying to be present when someone needs an ear, and answer the inevitable questions about the writing and publishing process. I will never forget what Nancy taught me, and what she offered me during my time of greatest joy out of her great need to heal.

 

 

By Suzanne Ushie

Suzanne Ushie

After I applied for a Hedgebrook residency, I dreamed of walking on a beach with a small group of strangers. Acres of water on the left, sleek boats bobbing on the blue; a place without a name. But I could tell, in that unshowy way dreams have of making things known, that I was somewhere in the United States. I am prone to the most bizarre dreams, so I put this tame one down to submission fatigue, then dismissed it as fluff.

And yet I walked on that beach with my fellow residents a day after I arrived in Hedgebrook. I walked barefoot on ivory sand covered with thick logs and purple seashells. I laughed at the name—Double Bluff Beach?—and the curved shoreline—Useless Bay?—as the heat strained into my feet. Here, on this lush island blooming with heart, I would do little more than write for a month. To be given such a gift.

Every morning, I awoke to the shrieking of owls and sat at my desk. I bent to the page and struggled with my sentences. When my writing took its time, often the case, I stared out the window and into the woods, hoping to spot a deer. I had since made peace with being a slow writer. Without the usual distractions though, my process soon became suspect.

I mourned in the library, slouched in my favourite couch, a book on my lap. Surrounded by silence and stone, I read women who were in Hedgebrook before me, and rapture came over me. I again believed that I would write as well as I could whenever I could. Above all else, the incredible women in residence with me made me feel once more like myself.

We often lingered at the table after dinner, sated by the spectacular meal, bonding over everything from writing to midnight baths. They taught me to trust my process, to make room for magic. They teased me, too, about my refusal to discuss my ongoing project. Someone called me “No-nonsense,” which filled me with wicked glee.

One night we sat around a bonfire, wrote down our fears, and flung them into the flames. High on warm company, an improbable plan emerged: we’d hide in the garlic storeroom so we’d never have to leave. Weeks into our stay, we fed apples to the two llamas and agreed on names: Thelma for the brown, Louise for the white. I remember wishing it were that easy to come up with a book title.

Mornings turned into a truce of sorts. Sometimes my writing went well. Other times, not so much. On “good writing days,” as I began to call them, I would work far into afternoon, neglecting tea and food, until I looked up to see the sun lowering behind the trees. On less productive days, I curled up on the window seat and read. Or wandered through the woods. Once, I walked to a nearby lavender farm, struck by the stillness of the sprawling homes—a rarity in Lagos where I live.

In the hallowed tradition of residences, writers come and go. On the eve of the first departure, I gathered with the others in a cottage, where we read our work and got a mostly accurate Tarot reading. While we mused over the journal entries, I recalled women whose conversations swung between men and marriage alone, women who I’d cut out of my life for my well-being. And then this unexpected sisterhood. This glorious tribe.

On my last day in Hedgebrook, only two of us from the original cohort remained. I got through the breathless goodbyes and settled in for the drive to the port, trying not to sulk. As I boarded the ferry, I thought of a longing I’d shared in my Artist Statement: Hedgebrook as my very own backbone, guiding me across the murky waters of writing safely. And it did.

 

By Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

When you look back on your life, what will be the measure that it mattered? I used to think the answer had something to do with small people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. It felt like my life’s purpose and I was impatient to get to it. But I also wanted to write.

I celebrated my 29th birthday at Hedgebrook with a garland of flowers picked from the gardens and a chocolate cake baked specially for the occasion by one of the gorgeous chefs. In the toilet room of Cedar cottage, days into my residency, I broke down in sobs. An empty bladder and two pink lines explained the nausea I’d had since my arrival. I was abuzz with mitosis.

Six weeks later I returned home with a draft of my first novel and three months pregnant.

That was decades ago – my 50th birthday jingles at the far edge of August. Little people are no longer little. In fact, they’ve all but left me. So what have 21 years since Hedgebrook taught me about what matters?

In those quiet days, in which lunch was delivered to my door, and dinner awaited me in the farmhouse, I learned an allegiance to my own creativity I’ve never lost (my tenth book Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it is about to be released by Hay House). But I also recall the bookshelf in the loungeroom, packed with books written at least in part, at Hedgebrook. I thought then, ‘No-one can ever call you an oxygen-thief, Nancy.’

Though motherhood intervened for a while, I dedicated myself to my writing for thirteen years.

But in 2012, my 8th book, commissioned by one of the Big 5 publishers, tanked. Two years of writing and therapy which chewed up the humble advance (I figured a book on intimacy required deeper self-knowledge), and I found myself at an expensive lunch with my publisher (a deadly omen) where she broke the news that the book had ‘unfortunately slipped through the cracks.’

She paid for the lunch and never responded to another email I ever sent. And that is the story of how one skewed book derailed a career.

I felt broken and betrayed. I began to wonder if writing was a form of self-abuse. In this noxious state, I trashed the whole damn endeavour – writing wasn’t all joyous. It also made me lonely, anxious and jealous, never mind broke. I was through. It wasn’t worth it.

So in 2014, I invested all my life savings into a business course. I wanted to understand whether money and writing could coexist. I learned words like ‘funnel,’ ‘leverage,’ and ‘platform.’ It shocked me to realise how flawed the traditional publishing model is – not only for authors, but publishers too. I understood how essential marketing is to the success of any venture. I was ashamed to admit that I’d always expected publishers to ‘save me’ – to swoop in and create the success of my book. Uggh, it was just another iteration of entitlement, a victimized ‘poor me, I’m special,’ attitude.

I studied artists who challenge conventions like Seth Godin and Amanda Palmer. I investigated crowdfunding. I invested in courses on how to run a campaign.

I’d always facilitated workshops and writing retreats to supplement my income, but I realised that these were my income. My books were not, and maybe never would be. My allegiance shifted from my own writing to supporting others to write. This felt meaningful and purposeful.

My focus now is almost exclusively on helping aspiring authors find their voices, write their stories and get published.

I recently ran a free 7 day writing challenge. It attracted over 2000 people from all over the world. My new online writing course The Author Awakening Adventure just kicked off with 130 aspiring authors. I am currently mentoring 18 women writers towards publication. My next big step is to become a publisher to ensure these books make it into the world.

I want my own shelf stacked with books by the writers I’ve nurtured. All that’s left is for me to buy some land, with a couple of gypsy caravans and invite writers to take up residence.

I teach my writers to take control of their destinies. In the process I’ve stopped looking ‘out there’ and am becoming the answer to all my own problems. And I have never been happier.

 

 

JOANNE FEDLER
www.joannefedlerwritingretreats.com

www.joannefedleryourstory.com

www.authorawakening.com

By Anne Liu Kellor

Growth, Stubbornness, and Working on a Memoir for (something like) Ten Years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel ashamed when people ask if I’m still working on the same book. Yes, for almost a decade now I’ve been working on a memoir, SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL, with some periods away from it in between. Most of the chapters originated during my time in grad school from 2004-2006, although many of the seeds of those pieces had already been planted during the years I lived and wrote in China from 1999-2002. And in some respects, you might say I’ve been working on this book since the day I was born.

This book has taught me a ton—about the process of writing and about myself. I have grown so much as a writer over these years that I have felt compelled to go back and rewrite most of the pieces, again and again and again. And because it’s a book about discovering myself during my twenties—and I started writing it while still in my twenties—it’s also a book whose deeper meaning has been elusive and unfolding as I’ve grown as a person.   Read more

By Ann Hedreen

Doll’s House

“Teenage Girl Blossoming into Beautiful Object,” proclaimed a recent headline in the Onion. The faux-newspaper goes on to describe the high school junior’s, quote, “staggering metamorphosis from a young girl with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations into a truly stunning commodity.” This kind of nailing-of-truth-through-satire is what makes me a great fan of the Onion: where writers specialize in humor that makes you wince. And think: about the truth behind the laugh.

The struggle of young women—to be treated as persons, not objects—is not a new theme. It’s not a “problem” we’re going to “solve” overnight. It is a chronic danger; one that burbles up over and over again, in every corner of the world. In many places, more poisonously than others.   Read more

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Sacred Conversation
Rona Jaffe Foundation – 2018 Hedgebrook Fellowship
The Vision Guiding the Bridging Retreat
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Kathleen Alcalá
Suzanne Ushie
Joanne Fedler
Tamiko Beyer
Tamiko Beyer: Women Authoring Change