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By Amy Evans

Listening for Echoes: A Hedgebrook Happening in New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On September 16th, I went to an afternoon performance of Say You Heard My Echo by fellow Hedgebrook alumn Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai at HERE performance space. It was a new performance piece fusing spoken word and theatre in an experimental exploration of the lives of three women of Asian descent attempting to come to terms with loss and find healing in New York City. At least, this was what I took from the performance; it was a thematically rich piece that explored spirituality, love, activism, survival, mental health, and family, a treasure chest of all of the ragged ends that make us each our own delightful and baffling little universe. But loss was the theme that rang loudest in my ears: the pain of losing love and faith, but also the wonder of losing fear.

After the show I went upstairs and ran into Mary Armstrong – another fellow Hedgebrook alumn. (These chance sightings were not actually so much left to chance, I should add, but rather the result of a very concerted and I would say successful effort by Reiko Rizzuto to rally New York-based alumn around Kelly’s performance.) We started chatting, assuming that the audience members would eventually emerge from downstairs and we would all converge and head to another hangout spot to continue discussing what we’d seen. We didn’t realize, however, that everyone else had taken the downstairs exit, and two hours later, as Kelly and her company had nearly finished striking the set, we were still talking. Mary is a prose writer and I am a playwright, and both of us are working on very different themes. (I must remember to ask Mary to tell me more about what writing a mystery is like. Do you know the answer to the mystery before you start writing? Or do you yourself make discoveries as your protagonist does? Are you allowed to surprise yourself, or are you forever in control? And my god, isn’t that the ultimate quest in life: negotiating the fine line between surprise and control?) We both found ourselves struggling with the question of permission: as writers we are always outsiders, but as people – for lack of a better term – our positions are far more complex. We cross boundaries constantly, sometimes tripping over them; we are welcome participants in some spaces and intruders in others. And while the imagination grants us all-access passes – or claims to – there are still boundaries in place that we are keenly aware of, that we must negotiate before we can think about crossing them.

Following our conversation, I was reminded of a woman at a Hedgebrook meeting at the Lark Play Development Center a few months ago who made a comment I noted down on an imaginary post-it note and stuck to the inner side of my cranium: ‘White men do not ask permission to write with authority about anything. And yet they do.’ Does this mean that we should too? The reactionary in me wants so badly to say yes, and it always takes a minute for me to remember that the reactionary in me, for all her zeal, rarely gets anything right. Asking permission is important to me, but permission is a very problematic word, one that too often evokes a desperate need for approval. When I talk about a writer seeking permission, I don’t mean approval. I’m talking about permission to trust the imagination and rely upon our own instinct for truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be. In Kelly’s piece, each of the three protagonists finds for herself a spiritual guide, a female voice that advises, comforts and re-affirms her on her journey. I can’t count the number of times I have requested the assistance – and yes, the permission – of such a guide, particularly if I was developing a character based on the life of a real person. Sometimes my request for permission came in spending hours writing internal monologues, stuff that I knew would never make it even as far as the first draft, let alone the final draft, but that I needed in order to get to the heart of my subject. And other times the request for permission came in a far more literal sense (read: pleading through my tears on bended knees). But this is the work we must do if we want to be true to our craft as writers and true to the stories that we’re struggling to tell, that we feel so strongly must be told.

So who guides you on your journey? Who gives you the courage to grapple with the truth in your writing, especially at those times when it’s painful to do so? And what do you do to thank her for her help?

 

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.

By Allison Green

Dreaming Hedgebrook

Before I returned to Hedgebrook recently for a brief stay, I had a dream. I arrived to find that the Hedgebrook property was ringed with new buildings. A teaching colleague — it didn’t occur to me to ask why she was working at Hedgebrook — gave me a tour of the dark-panelled bowling alley and the snack bar that smelled of frying oil. She showed me my “cottage,” a dingy brown nylon tent. When I asked its name, she said it was called “Willow,” just like the cottage where I had originally stayed seven years before. Outside the tent, cars in a perpetual traffic jam idled in four lanes.

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By Ruth Setton

The Story Teller

Every night for the past thousand years, under moon and stars in the Djma el Fnaa, the fabled square of Marrakech, a man tells a story. Wearing a white turban and djellabah, he stands in the center of a circle of people. Wide-eyed and rapt, they lean forward to catch his every word and see his every gesture. He is competing with the human circus in all its barbaric grandeur. Crowds stream past, drums pound, people dance, steam rises from food stalls, beggars wail, the snake charmer lures his six-foot python from a basket, the Berber pharmacist spreads his cures on a blanket, the henna woman tries to embroider your arms and hands with henna scrolls. Surrounding the magic circle of the storyteller are voices, a multitude of voices—beggars, vendors, the muezzin, singers, musicians, snake charmer, the crowd—yet his voice stands out.

I have watched the storyteller for hours as he weaves a web of magic around his audience. You don’t have to understand the language he is speaking to understand the power of story. All you have to do is listen to his voice, watch his eloquent gestures and you find yourself responding to the rhythm of his words, the dramatic pauses, the sense of tension and suspense he creates. Story is the answer and it is also the question.   Read more

By Storme Webber

Estrogeniously Yours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estrogenius; a form of brilliance found only in the thoughts and imaginations of women. See: Hedgebrook.

So of course Hedgebrook brought the voices of women to Seattle’s art fest Bumbershoot, bringing five writer/performers (including visionary Director/author Amy Wheeler) to the Words & Ideas stage.

Storme Webber, Karen Finneyfrock, Tara Hardy & Rose Mc Aleese made up the chorus of intertwined and solo voices and it was good.     Read more

By Donna Miscolta

Lies, Fakery, and Fiction

I took vacation time from work last week to work on my new novel. I wanted to put myself on track to finish a draft by the end of the year. While I made good progress, I might have made more had I not allowed myself to be distracted by the Internet. I was posting more than usual on Facebook and Twitter, in large part about the GOP convention speeches which flabbergasted, outraged, and insulted. Ann Romney’s exclamation, “I love you, women!” sounded desperate to me. There was her fake sense of solidarity with women in America: We’re the mothers. We’re the wives. We’re the grandmothers. We’re the big sisters. We’re the little sisters and we are the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you? Okay, an irrefutable enumeration of our familial roles, but what most of us know is true is that Ann Romney understands little about how the non-wealthy mothers, wives, grandmothers, etc., live.   Read more

By Florencia Milito

Imagination

Some time ago I read an exquisite little essay by the Italian postwar writer Natalia Ginzburg in which, in her razor-sharp, self-deprecating manner, she refers to her own imagination as “paltry.” Her piece struck a chord: I had never heard a writer speak so candidly about her own limitations. And I could identify only too well, and too painfully. My own relationship to imagination is a complicated one. I, too, have often wished for a copious, fecund imagination, one as wide as an ocean, as lush as the densest tropical jungle. And yet when I think of my own imagination, the images that come to mind are something altogether different. A tundra perhaps. Some expansive, but icy, landscape. A swath of blue-gray. The color of a wolverine’s eyes. Or, perhaps, the recurrent image that my mind conjures whenever it’s trying to break out of a period of writing blocks: a thin red line, almost like a clothesline, but infinitely thin and red like bright blood. The line is at once present (indicated by the boldness of the color) and elusive (suggested by the thinness of the line). In my fantasy, my mind needs to follow that line in order to break out of periods of aphasia, periods where I am convinced I will never be able to write a poem again. Another image comes to mind when thinking about Imagination. (I find myself unconsciously capitalizing the word, as if writing about a goddess.) The image is that of a porcelain doll, a doll that is a bit disheveled, that has a pirate’s wooden leg. My imagination then is something broken, like bird’s wings, something fragile, a miniature glass city, perfect and elusive. It is a place inside me that has been buried deeply the way a little girl fleeing war might bury a silver bell, hiding it from soldiers who will ransack everything.   Read more

By Angie Chau

The Lives Lived Beneath the Surface

As many of you know, Quiet As They Come took me back for a homecoming in Vietnam at the start of 2012. I was invited to give talks at the U.S. Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I don’t use the word homecoming lightly. We left the fallen city of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh) in 1978 when I was 3. My parents and I escaped by boat in the middle of the night. We had tried twice before, once in 1975 and again in 1976 when we failed. There was a Malaysian refugee camp in between when we were countryless. But that is a whole other narrative. This story is about connection. This is about the gift of writing, about how we create reshaping us, about the brilliant unknowns in life akin to the writer’s journey that can be so unexpectedly delicious.   Read more

By Wendy Ortiz

The Many Pulsating Hearts

In July 2007, I stepped off a ferry onto Whidbey Island on what felt like the hottest day of the year. I arrived at Hedgebrook and was told that Gloria Steinem was on the land, in the house, for the period of time I too would be on the land and in the farmhouse.  I was stunned. Already, this experience was becoming bigger, more surreal and amazing than I could have imagined.

I was a newly married woman wearing a handmade ring. I was wondering, constantly, what this ring meant about me, how people might see me, but mostly, what it meant for the queerness I knew was in my blood.

I recently published an essay in The New York Times describing the experience of coming out to my husband and going on to fashion a life incredibly different from the one I’d planned when we’d gotten hitched in the California desert. In less than 1600 words I managed to describe one heart of the experience, which is to say that this was, and continues to be, an experience with many pulsating hearts.    Read more

By Patricia Caspers

Hearing Voices: Women Versing Life presents Hedgebrook

As a woman, how much time do you spend thinking about food: the budget, weekly menu, grocery list, shopping, preparing, and cleaning up? Daily, I prepare meals for four people, two of whom slide half their dinner to their dad when they think I’m not watching, and while I’m no longer shocked by the amount energy cooking takes, there are times when I have to muscle myself away from the poem in progress to fire up the electric burners.

In October of 2006, though, I spent two blessed weeks at Hedgebrook, a writer’s residence for women on Whidbey Island, where my only responsibility was to show up for dinner every evening: Garden fresh dinner, shared with incredible women.

Now I am shocked at how many women writers have never heard of Hedgebrook—because it’s free. Free, I tell you. Free. This gift of uninterrupted time for a woman writer is a political act on par with the first publication of Our Bodies Ourselves or The Second Shift. As evidence, I offer testimony from three former Hedgebrook Sisters:   Read more

By Sally Charette

Full House – The Country in the City 1-Day Writer’s Retreat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember the first time you went to the Hedgebrook’s The Country in the City 1-Day Writer’s Retreat after spending the day inside and on the grounds.

The women who made this retreat happen infused it with the spirit of Hedgebrook, which has at its core a sense of infinite time and possibility. What I took away from my three-week stay in Oak Cottage in 2000 was an understanding that it is good and necessary for the creative spirit to allow itself some time. I followed my nose around the grounds of Hedgebrook like a little kid. It was the first time I’d had so much time off work since high school.

From the moment the organizers and workshop leaders introduced themselves and told us how the day would go, I released any lingering trepidation about having a day in which to do whatever I wanted, and time began to expand beneath my fingertips.   Read more

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