I had to miss out on the exciting Writing the Lines Litquake event on October 11th because I was tucked away in my cabin at Hedgebrook, a writing residency for women on Whidbey Island in Washington's Puget Sound.
Founded by Nancy Nordoff in 1988 on 48 acres of land, the whole idea behind Hedgebrook is inspired by Virginia Woolf's "belief that giving a writer a room of her own is the greatest gift of confidence in her voice."
I spent my four weeks there walking in the woods, reading endlessly (Salman Rushdie, Annie Dillard, Italo Calvino, Andre Dubus, Joan Didion, Carolyn Forche, Ruth Forman, Suheir Hammad -- who was in residence at Hedgebrook in the week before mine), eating delicious homegrown meals, conversing with the other writers and rejuvenating.
I went to Hedgebrook to revise a collection of short stories that was my MFA thesis from San Francisco State University and found that the long afternoons were exactly what I needed to have the courage to really, really revise my work properly. I thought of it as dropping my work off of a cliff and then slowly walking down to the valley below and discovering what I was really trying to say. But like other writers, I found myself engaged in all kinds of creative work besides the "goal" of my residency. I scribbled poetry in my journal about the shadows the fir trees drew across the writing desk, took obsessive pictures of the green banana slugs that slimed their way across the cedar wood chip paths, I edited video footage from my last trip to Kolkata, I prepared for my Bollywood Benshi performance, and made raging fires in my little woodstove.
I read David Lynch's treatise on transcendental meditation, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, every night. In his chapter called "The Art Life," he quotes an artist he knew as a child who said: "If you want to get one good hour of painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time." Word.
But beyond the time and space, the community I found at Hedgebrook was one of my favorite parts of the month. I met bad-ass poets and memoirists and journalists and novelists and prodigies and comedians and performers and ... the list goes on and on.
Even the women I didn't meet kept me company. In each of the cabins were twenty years of journal entries by former residents. In my cabin, I was drawn to a journal entry by a woman named Bishakha Datta who wrote about coming to Hedgebrook from India. Later, I found a documentary film in the Hedgebrook library called In the Flesh by Datta, which profiles three different people who work in the sex industry in Kolkata. It was an amazing film - done with so much love and humanity. It was a truly inspiring moment in my time there.
Writing the Lines contributors Minal Hajratwala and Maya Khosla were also former residents of Hedgebrook, and I would often pick up Khosla's award-winning book Keel Bone in the farmhouse library while waiting dinner. (It was exciting to think how Writing the Lines of Our Hands will one day be in the illustrious library as well.)
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I was even attacked by a territorial barred owl one night! The deadline for application is every September. But I got some tips about other residencies and these were highly recommended: MaDowell, Sacatar, Jentel and the Headlands Center for the Arts (where Writing the Lines contributor Bushra Rehman is currently in residence).
But being back at home (and work), my goal is to find that uninterrupted four hours at least once a week, if not more. Here's to all of you doing the same!