Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Facing my Creative Self, Cushioned by Love


Mid December I got the news that I had been accepted for the 2014 Hedgebrook Writers’ Residency. I was over-the-moon ecstatic. For a mother of 4 energetic daughters and a wife, this was a precious gift and as the months rolled on I lived for those two precious weeks in July. After a 6 hour flight from Detroit on July 3, a shuttle ride from Seattle, and a ferry ride onto Whidbey Island, I was met in the town of Freeland by warm hearted Julie, who drove me to Hedgebrook farm. More warm and open hearts welcomed me.  I met Laurel, a writer from the Philippines sitting contentedly on a swing with her computer enjoying the outdoors. I later learned that this was her favorite spot. I was given a tour of the property, through the farm house which housed a library in a cozy family room, a kitchen and the revered farm house table.

We walked through the garden crunching on snap peas and inhaling the scent of a variety of colorful blooms. I picked raspberries off a bush and ate them, savoring the tart freshness. I took in deep cleansing breaths and exhaled the stress that had built up over months of work without pause to reflect and process.

Then we walked to Meadow House, the place that was to be my home for the next 2 weeks. I was awed by the hand crafted wood interior, the fireplace, the windows that allowed the entire place to be flooded with light and a breath taking view from my writing desk.

Finally left alone to unpack, I stared at the set of keys in my hand. I had here the keys to not just a room of my own but an entire house of my own for two weeks. I paged through the journals and discovered that Gloria Steinem, Ruth Ozeki and many other amazing women had stayed in Meadow House. Suddenly it hit me: That I stand on the shoulders of giants, great women whose work and support had gotten me to this place at this time. I thought of Nancy Nordhoff, who envisioned Hedgebrook and made the dream a reality, building beautiful cabins and a garden to feed women’s bodies and fuel their creativity. It struck me as remarkable that Nancy is herself not a writer, but she realized the importance of having more women’s voices in literature and the arts. She also realized the challenges women faced as writers, given all the responsibilities in many of their lives. Hedgebrook was the response to an urgent call and Nancy made it happen through her generosity.
I thought of my mentors, my mother and my daughters whose unwavering support and belief that I was a writer challenged me to keep giving voice to those issues and stories that I was most passionate about. I knew then that it was time to start respecting my work and honoring the calling that everyone else seemed to take more seriously than myself. In the elegant words of a special Beloved, it was time to “stop fucking around and to write the fucking Novel!” The belief in my ability expressed by the women in my life had brought me to Hedgebrook. Hedgebrook would complete what had been started.

Scared as I was to begin this journey, I knew I had to. I had a novel outline that I had sat with for over a year. The story was, in so many ways already written in my spirit and the time had come for me to strip away the layers that hindered the commitment of the story to paper. Every day, cushioned in this space of non-intrusive nurturing, the layers began to come off. The undressing was gentle and loving and I felt safe in this feminine space to face my completely naked creative self. I stopped resisting the impulse to stare for hours at Mount Rainer, or to take a walk down a trail leading to some place that I did not know. I trusted completely this sacred place, envisioned, created, and imbued with feminine energy. I trusted my creative self to show up if I opened up. I listened to birdsong and watched bunnies play outside my cabin. I listened to the crackling fire in the woodstove and to the monotonous humming of the fridge. I read and envisioned and cried and slept. Finally I was able to listen to and hear my inner voice. On the third day I sat at my computer and put down the story that had been writing itself inside me for a long time.

 Supported by amazing fellow writers with whom I shared an evening meal and some of the most precious conversations I have ever had, my novel progressed. The love that went into preparing our meals by some beautiful women sustained me during the tougher parts of the writing process. Unexpected but beautiful stories emerged from inside the story and a radical love story quietly but insistently inserted itself and asserted itself as the fulcrum of the novel. I had no idea where it came from but what I did know was that Hedgebrook was like a womb that nourishes, nurtures, protects and sustains women writers so that they in turn could give birth to the stories that the world needed to hear. This was for me the alchemy of Hedgebrook’s radical hospitality.

The final piece to my “coming of age” as a creative being was the journey I took with the guidance of Elizabeth Frediani: Healing through energy alignment. I learnt that my creativity was fed through nurturing myself the same way I cared for and nurtured others. I gained a deeper understanding of life events, past and present and how they affected the energy balance within me and therefore affected my creativity. Elizabeth is also one of the phenomenal women who cooks for writers at Hedgebrook.

I have left Hedgebrook, this magical place, conceived and built with Love, and sustained for 25 years through Love. But I carry Hedgebrook with me wherever I go in the world. The life changing experience as well as the calm and clarity that come with the gift of solitude I have taken with me. I carry the spirit of radical hospitality and the deepened belief in intentional communities of Love and safe feminine spaces as a way to nurture and bring forth leaders, artists, writers, painters, and the potential for so much more. I leave with the first draft of a novel.

My hope is that I have left something of myself at Hedgebrook also: joy, laughter, dance, ideas, love and sisterhood, to be ploughed back into this fecund space, so that other women may be nourished nurtured and loved as I have been.

I am in deepest love and gratitude!



  1. Dear Barbara, reading this brought such joy to my heart. I could feel "the alchemy of Hedgebrook’s radical hospitality" - wow. And that food, mmm :)
    Here's a toast to our foremothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, soul-friends and all the women supporters whose shoulders we stand on and who stand on ours too.
    How I look forward to the birthing of your novel.

  2. Thank you dear Ms. Afropolitan. Indeed I lift up my glass in a toast and pour a libation to all of them and to you! Blessings!