BY SUZANNE KELMAN
December 30, 2015
I had a very wonderful experience when I was invited to Hedgebrook by the amazing staff to teach. In return, I had the use of a cottage in the woods with all my meals prepared for six days. And I wanted to share with you some of the lessons that unique environment taught me.
Amusingly, I took the whole of my world with me, moving into my cottage with everything but the kitchen sink. I had my latest writing projects, comfort blankets, books to read. What I ended up doing most of the time was staring, quietly, out the window.
My first night I found the cottage journal written by all “the Cedar Sisters” (taken from the name of the cabin), a delightful description of each woman’s journey. Entries encouraged future sisters to enjoy the silence, the shifting forest light, the excellent meals and to live the simple life. Not one of them gave out writing tips. They didn’t tell me how to work; they reminded me to be still. In a world where forward momentum is power, a week wasted watching shifting light seemed too decadent when thousands of words could be written.
But I heeded their advice. I wrote each day but for just an hour, then the rest of the time I absorbed the nothingness, trusting the words of my Cedar Sisters that taking that deep breath was going to enrich my writing.
On day three I read these words from John O’Donohue:
“Every work of Art creates apertures of emptiness to allow your experience to find its secret home there. There is room for everyone in a great work of art.”
— Longing and Belonging
The “space” matters as much as the productivity.
To be good I must also empty out.
It took a few days for my next lesson to filter in to my consciousness; it was—the silence. Silence is very quiet. I wasn’t prepared for it. The silence of my cabin in the woods was broken only briefly by a scurrying animal or a flap of wings. It became my buddy. It’s wonderful lingering presence made time feel luxurious.
The only other sign of life was the light across the clearing from one of the other cottages. The founder, Nancy Nordhoff, decided—very wisely—to build the cottages close enough to each other to provide the reassuring touch of a lighted window, reminding its inhabitants we weren’t alone on our adventure.
I am most comfortable when I’m alone within a community.
Just to wake up and see that little light in the distance
reassured me that I wasn’t alone, but I was away.
The third lesson that I learned from Hedgebrook was the joy of preparation. Every day in the farmhouse kitchen a chef prepared all the residents’ meals. In the evening we gathered around the farmhouse table and I looked forward to the lively discussions and fun and laughter.
But what I loved most happened before the farmhouse filled with writers. All the cooks seemed to take great joy in creating beautiful meals for us. It was so pleasant to sit listening to the light chopping or gentle boiling sounds coming from the kitchen. The experience stirred in me a deeply buried love. Cooking had become a chore, something I had to do in order to eat and get back to work. Listening and watching their meticulous preparations reminded me that, a long time ago, I used to love creating meals. I decided after leaving Hedgebrook, I would explore that again.
Taking the time to pursue other things that also feed me
(literally) will not detract from my work; it will enhance it.
The fourth lesson came the night a big storm was predicted. In every cottage, along with the cozy cushions and fluffy duvets, is also a hard hat to protect you while walking through the forest during windstorms. With a storm predicted one evening, I took mine with me as I journeyed to the farmhouse but the forest was a still as a millpond. The very next night I was halfway through the forest when an unexpected storm blew the woods into a frenzy. I battled through the night toward the farmhouse, my cape flapping around my ears and no hard hat in sight.
Preparation will only take me so far.
I also have to expect the unexpected
and then I have to go with the flow.
My last lesson came on the day I taught my class at Hedgebrook. A violent rainstorm was upon us as we left the meeting room and a little band of writers followed me to Cedar cottage, moving at a clip through the sleeting rain. Forty minutes into the class, two wet, bedraggled word warriors knocked at the door; they had gotten lost on the way. But instead of being grumpy about their sodden experience, they settled straight down by the fire to capture their adventures on paper. I was in awe.
You can always view experiences as a catastrophe
or an adventure. It’s all about perspective.
So as we head into the next year, I wish you the space to create art, and the love and joy that a brand New Year can bring. Happy 2016 everyone!
Photos by Suzanne Kelman / Photo of Kelman is by Kim Tinuviel
Suzanne Kelman is an awarding-winning screenwriter and an Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences 2015 Nicholls Finalist. She is also a novelist and her book “The Rejected Writers Book Club” is being published by Lake Union Publishing in Spring 2016.
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