At the beginning of the month I went to the Holy Grail of women’s writing residencies: Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island. I leave three weeks later (plane takes me home tomorrow). I have managed to stay off of social media (unless you count joining Instagram and friending five of the women I have gotten to know during my stay).
Everything they say about radical hospitality is true. I started out in Willow cottage but roof repair necessitated a move to the Meadow House, and here, in the quiet of my loft desk, I have completed a draft of my next book. I have read books—plural! I have walked around the lagoon and talked to bunnies and slugs. I have discovered quite a bit about the silence of the mind and untapped potential of an unscheduled day.
I have learned how to build a fire. I have discovered that I make terrible coffee. I have also discovered that I will drink terrible coffee if it means not having to leave the cottage.
Here’s some other stuff I’ve learned. Is writing advice or is it metaphor? You be the judge.
You don’t have to stay on the path in order to find your way.
Sometimes a fire doesn’t burn until you leave it alone.
The red thermos holds three cups of coffee.
Take time to feed the llamas.
Take baths. Take naps. Take walks. Take the cookie jar if you are hosting.
When you step on a ladder from a lofty height, don’t look down.
When you are climbing the ladder, don’t look down.
When you are descending, it doesn’t matter so much
if you are looking up or looking down.
It only matters that you have a firm footing.
Not every recipe is in the cookbook.
The puffy llama doesn’t want the fruit you have to offer her.
She just wants to snort at you.
Don’t take it personally.
The other llama is not so picky.
Fire needs to breathe to live.
Sometimes kindling and a little air is enough to reignite the flame.
Hedgebrook is the place where you fall out of your routine
in order to fall into a rhythm.
Big flames don’t always carry a lot of heat and they burnt out quickly.
Those orange-hot embers, on the other hand, will cause other logs to catch fire
And will keep you warm through the night.
You don’t have to finish everything on your plate.
You can even throw it away.
After all, making yourself eat more than you can handle is also a waste.
Don’t pay attention to the smoke.
Well, sometimes you should pay attention to the smoke.
Especially if you left a towel on the wood stove.
Sometimes the flowers you cut bloom.
Sometimes they die right away.
Sometimes they have bugs.
Dead flowers have their own picturesque beauty.
Buggy ones—less so.
Burning your manuscript as kindling is fun, but newspaper is more effective.
Even Hedgebrook makes chocolate chips cookies
from the recipe on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse bag.
Vito isn’t making it up—you really can see Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
It will shine there a hundred miles away, iridescent pink and glowing.
And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
You can see its outline in the clouds.
You can feel that it’s there.
This is how you will be when you leave this place.
What you need is already inside of you.
Even if you don’t believe it.
P.S. Don’t kill Gloria Steinem’s spiders.