It’s 94 degrees in Brooklyn, and I am writing in a pair of blue cashmere fingerless gloves. They are a gift from a dear friend – crafted from recycled goodness, and sent from Canada. They are also a shared talisman that connects me to my tribe: a group of women who inspire me, recognize me, support me, and challenge me. Women writers.
We found each other in retreat. At Hedgebrook, an oasis for women writers on Whidbey Island, famous for its radical hospitality. Hedgebrook is the only retreat I have ever been to, though, as I write this, I am poised to announce a new, week-long retreat in Hawaii that will combine three of the ingredients that Hedgebrook uses to create magic: place, space and community. It’s hard to imagine that, once, I was a writer who thought, because I have my own office at home and time to write, a retreat wouldn’t offer me anything I didn’t already have.
So how wrong was I?
Place first. A retreat is surely always beautiful. A setting that makes you want to breathe in deep, go for walks, listen to the birds (or frogs, owls, or the rain on the leaves). A place that awakens your senses, that reminds you to be in your body and use it when you write. Where you find a new rhythm that allows you to feel your too-familiar ones, which is to say to see yourself and your work with new eyes. A great retreat will also encourage you to stay inside and get lost in the other realm you created. To be in both worlds at the same time.
Let’s talk about that getting lost, because that is key too: more than no cell phones; an abundance of delicious food you didn’t have to prepare; no one asking you where the scissors are or if we are out of toilet paper (and jeez, it was just a simple question!). Quiet time at a retreat means that there is nothing else to do for quite a while. You’ve given yourself the gift of time, you’ve likely traveled far, and what I have found for myself is: the space that opens up for me changes my relationship to my work. Whereas at home I am much more likely to be thinking about product – how much have I accomplished? Can I fix this? Is it finished? And if it isn’t, can’t I wash the dishes instead? – when I am in retreat, I am able to look beneath the surface of the work and break it open, because, why not? I have the time. I can always go back to my earlier draft. The quiet writing time of a retreat, for me, has been a time when I can play, explore, take a risk, step off the path. And I have been able to tap into the heart of something, unseen, shifting, necessary. Something that, honestly, when I was home, even in the quiet of my own lovely writing room, I didn’t know was there.
The final piece, which Goddard MFA faculty member and colleague Nicky Morris pointed to in a recent blog post, is community. Other writers. It’s a little counterintuitive that one would be going off into the woods to have conversations, but other writers – peers, mentors, students – are the source of the true gifts of retreat: inspiration and encouragement that continue long after you leave. They are the ones who – on that day when you decided to take a risk and rewrite your manuscript in the first person plural – serendipitously have the perfect story, “We,” and four other book recommendations that find their way magically into your email inbox. Or, on a long walk with a new friend, you might confide your current struggle – that you are writing your third book, say, and yet with every one it seems like you have to teach yourself to write all over again – and you find out that she has exactly the same experience, and she’s on book number eight. If your retreat also includes workshops, the support you get from your community will be more directly focused on your creations, rather than the writing life: a prompt to try, a comment about an aspect of your work that is really haunting, or a suggestion for finding a way to rethink something that isn’t working. Maybe you will be the student who finds a flash of inspiration from the first writing prompt and ignores everything else in the workshop because you are lost in your own world, writing. Maybe you will be the one who reads a brand new piece at the final evening open mike and brings everyone to tears. Maybe you will leave with a journal full of new ideas, beginnings, and go-to exercises for when you are home and stuck.
I know you will leave with life-long friends. I have, every time. From my last retreat, which began with Vortext, I gained a new sisterhood, as well as great enthusiasm for the writers who attended, some of whom (and I know this because I worked with them, heard them read, ate with them) you will be reading someday. I also left with a pair of red fingerless gloves (my winter pair!) handknit by one of the writers who attended. I have other gifts and talismans too – from homemade jelly to a carved ivory mermaid, crystal balls, a book, a four leaf clover, a pencil so elegant I am afraid to write with it, plastic earrings that (I kid you not) say “Compost Queen,” a ginger lollipop (no, I ate that); the list, as already crazy-long as it is, goes on. These gifts are evidence of the magic that happens in retreat, and reminders that we are in this together; they are my motivation to help create another space for writers in the world. Even now that I am home again, I know I am not alone. They – you – are out there too
Where are you writing? Aerogramme’s new list of retreats for 2015 includes Hedgebrook, an oasis for women writers near and dear to my heart: hard to get into (with 1500 applications this year!) but worth reapplying for, since, once you are a Hedgebrook alumna, you have a family for life. I’ll be teaching there for Vortex with the amazing Ruth Ozeki, who just visited Goddard, where I am on the faculty of the MFA in Creative Writing program, on the coldest day in anyone’s memory in Vermont (minus 23). At Goddard, we have just finished an action-packed week of writing, reading, learning, listening, dreaming, and thanks to Ruth, meditating our way into our stories so that we can access the world of our stories with our bodies. The MFA students are still talking about you, Ruth, and voraciously reading their new signed copies of A Tale for the Time Being.
If your writing life is inclined less toward a two year Masters’ program, and more toward a three day weekend retreat (and if you are female!) this year, Hedgebrook’s Vortex is offering small workshops, lectures and panel discussions with a new group of teachers, including Carole DeSanti, Dani Shapiro,Victoria Redel, and Hannah Tinti. What an amazing group of writers for a long weekend! (Full bios and brand new workshop descriptions on the Hedgebrook website here.) It would be lovely to see you there, in one of the most magical places I know.
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” ― Muriel Rukeyser
Storytelling is a radical act. By sharing our own truths, we can heal, reveal, inspire, and challenge: literally recreating the world. In memoir, honesty is everything, but re-living our experiences and turning life into art can be one of the most challenging things we do. This workshop will help you find your central question and use it to find the shape of your manuscript. You will learn to be kind to your characters (including yourself) and also ruthless. You will balance an immersion into your past with the safety of the present. We will talk about placing your personal story in a broader social context.
Join me in one of the world’s most idyllic writing settings, Hedgebrook, the retreat that supports extraordinary work by visionary women. More information here, and on hedgebrook.org.
What a fantastic day in Washington Square Park. So many dancing here, all over the city, all over the world. Thank you to all the beautiful creatures, men and women, dancing for peace, love, equity, joy, freedom.
One of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends. Yet, most of the world remains silent and indifferent. The time has come to put a stop to the violence, and to the silence that surrounds it.
On February 14th, 2013, one billion women and those who love them are invited to walk out, rise up, dance, and strike to demand an end to violence against women and girls.
ONE BILLION RISING.
Sign up or get more information at: onebillionrising.org. Like: facebook.com/vday. Tweet: @VDAY with the hashtag #1billionrising
Talking women writers with some wonderful women writers with Hedgebrook, She Writes and Goddard connections. Come join us!
Moderated by Holly Morris
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Lisa Dierbeck is the author of the novels The Autobiography of Jenny X and One Pill Makes You Smaller, a New York Times Notable Book. In 2010, she co-founded Mischief+Mayhem, an independent publisher run by established authors in association with OR Books. The New York Observer has dubbed it “the book industry’s new danger brigade.” Frequently anthologized and twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and in such publications as The Boston Globe, O, the Oprah Magazine, The New York Times Book Review and Time Out New York.
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, is a National Book Critics Circle Finalist, among other honors. She is the author of Why She Left Us, an American Book Award Winner, a U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellow, Hedgebrook alumna, and a faculty member at Goddard College. Rizzuto has appeared widely in the media, including The Today Show, The View, 20/20, The Joy Behar Show, MSNBC-TV and PBS-TV. Her articles have been published internationally.
Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, was published in September 2011 and was named one of the best novels of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her essay “Writers Like Me,” published in the New York Times Book Review, appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O, Entertainment Weekly, and Essence.
Amy Wheeler is a playwright and the Executive Director of Hedgebrook, a retreat and residency for women writers on Whidbey Island that supports women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. Amy holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and her work has been seen in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Atlanta.
Holly Morris, co-founder of PowderKeg, is a writer and editor, and a television documentary producer and correspondent. The former Editorial Director of the book publishing company Seal Press, Morris edited an eclectic list of titles on topics ranging from domestic violence and geo-politics, to award-winning poetry and international fiction and nonfiction. She also edited the Adventura imprint, which features outdoor, travel, and environmental literature. She is a longtime board member of Hedgebrook, a writer’s residency in Washington State. Her essays are widely anthologized, and she writes for numerous publications including The New York Times. Her book, Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine, based on her experiences as an international correspondent, was named an “Editors’ Choice” and a ‘Notable Book of the Year’ about exploration by the New York Times. Morris is the executive producer/writer/director of the award-winning prime-time PBS documentary series, “Adventure Divas”