Administration building, Mt. St. Mary College, Doheny Campus.
Remember the first time you went to the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland? It looked like a big house from the outside, but inside it was mind-bogglingly larger with seemingly infinite images and passages. That’s kind of how I felt looking back at the historic building that housed 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.
Three writers offered workshops with sessions meeting in the morning and afternoon. We could go to any of these, drop in and out of them, or spend time in a chat area, the quiet writing room or wandering the grounds. We could sign up for 25-minute mentoring sessions. Beverages were available. The farmhouse table was stocked with bagels, generous bowls of whole fruits, and perfectly diminutive pastries. (Thank you, thank you, I despise getting stuck with a muffin the size of a Guinea pig!) We were being nurtured and we didn’t have to apologize for loving it.
I flashed right past feeling regret that I would not be able to do everything, be in each session of each workshop, and trusted that there would be enough. Dorothy Randall Gray’s morning workshop was the perfect mixture of calling up the muse and practical, optimistic techniques. We introduced ourselves with our first names, one word and a gesture that everyone at the table repeated back to us and went on from there.
During my mentor meeting with Erika Schickel, she miraculously intuited things about my stalled novel and reinforced the idea I’d latched onto from Dorothy, that finishing a piece to one’s own satisfaction is success in writing. Publishing is a reward, but it’s not the most important part of the journey. Erika’s wit and anti-precious approach to writing was just what I needed.
I slipped in and out of Judith Dancoff’s lovely afternoon writing circle to go to my mentor meeting, and plan to use some of her prompts on my own. I was so excited about getting back to that novel, that I produced a flaccid little piece of writing that I shared with that group. Hearing it not be great was okay, though. It reinforced that I need to give things time, not rush to fix, fixity, fix.
Wild parrot, reminding me to play, to shout it like I see it. My writing may sound like so much crackly cawing to some folks, but someone else may hear exactly what she needs to hear.
At the end of the day, I didn’t feel that I had missed a thing. I received everything I needed to receive. Listening to the participants read their work from the front porch stage, I could tell that wonders were also released in Hope Anita Smith’s writing circle, and was gratified to know that those women had a parallel experience to mine.
Today I feel whole as a writer in a way that I haven’t in a long time. I waited to write about it because, yes, I did learn a little something about giving raw experience a little time to germinate.
This is what Hedgebrook does for women writers. It gives more than it receives. It nurtures. It frees.
I came away with this image of a small purple velvet bag that I can hang inside my clothes. It’s full of shiny silver tools. I look forward to getting them out and nicking them up.
Thanks again to the organizers, the writing circle leaders, the mentors, the volunteers and my fellow participants for filling this house with more than it could physically contain.