My Week at Hedgebrook . . .
“We began calling what we do at Hedgebrook—the practice of nurturing and nourishing women writers in residence—’radical hospitality’ about ten years ago because we needed a way to describe why we do what we do. To help others understand that taking care of a woman writer so she can focus on her work is still, even now, a revolutionary, radical act. As is giving her time to focus on her writing instead of taking care of others.” -Hedgebrook flyer
As a wife, a mother, a daughter to an aging parent, a daughter-in-law to another aging parent, and an active volunteer in the larger Indian community, the demands on my time are endless. I relish my role in my busy bustling life but my writing— a passion I discovered late in life—often falls by the wayside.
When I’m told I’ve been accepted for a Master Class at Hedgebrook (an opportunity to enjoy retreat experience with the unique opportunity to be in residence and study with a celebrated teacher on beautiful Whidbey island) —I step out into the world feeling powerful and grand and irresistible, where just minutes ago I felt crippling self-doubt when considering my pile of rejection letters from agents, which at last count exceeded fifty.
As anybody in the writing world knows, a residency at Hedgebrook (free of charge) is famously unattainable. Master classes are easier to get into but also have a rigorous application process, are limited to only six writers, and often have a waiting list. At a master class, you pay for the class itself, but the accommodations and the meals (organic and made fresh every day with veggies, herbs, and flowers from Hedgebrook’s own garden) itself are free. The ethos (whether a residency or a master class) remains the same—that, Hedgebrook invests in women who write by providing them with space and time to create significant work in solitude, and pampering the woman writer is the atmosphere at the farmhouse.
My experience at Hedgebrook, as summarized below:
A cottage that looks like something out of a fairytale by Grimm Brothers. A Hansel and Gretel cottage or a Red Riding Hood cottage. A cottage with a sun-dappled window and cheery daffodils over the kitchen sink—my home for the next seven days.
Very soon after I arrive, a routine develops. Every morning, I’m awakened by a lark caroling his early hymn. A lifelong city girl, I’ve learned to start and tend a fire in the wood stove. Feeling warmed, I brew aromatic dark coffee in the Fresh Press. Inspired by the caffeine rush, I fill pages of private, real scribblings that possess, just by existing, all the meaning any writing can have. No moral. No lesson. I sit on the bench beside the babbling brook in the meadow, and I devour a wholesome, organic lunch prepared for me by the Hedgebrook chef. Then, I go for a walk along the beach. A bright yellow, delirious sun rises over the gently lapping ocean waves. I watch a pelican perched on spindly legs on the edge of the water. At 3 p.m,. I attend a master class with renowned author, Lan Samantha Chung.
At the workshop, I read from my manuscript. In the face of other writers’ criticism, I am paralyzed by insecurity. Why am I doing this? What makes me think I can write? At the communal, dinner table that evening, my faith in myself is resurrected by the empathy of like-minded writers. Differences in culture, background, beliefs, and opinions are accepted and the transformative power of the female energy is fierce. I come back to my cottage and I’m amazingly, astoundingly productive. Where before I was clogged, words flow on the page as if someone poured Draino down the synapses of my brain.
I was warned that the solitude of life at Hedgebrook is one of the most difficult adjustments for many writers. Not for me. Given the competing demands of my rambunctious family and community life, I cherish the quiet, the tranquility that I find at Hedgebrook. I pick wildflowers on my solitary walks through the woods. I inhale the crisp, life-giving mountain air, and I am reborn.
At Hedgebrook, I was honored, taken care of and given—as the only brown girl in residence—a place at the dinner table. My opinions were not only accepted, they were invited. Radical Hospitality. Radical Empathy. Salud to Hedgebrook.