Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hedgebrook, Day Seventeen

Andrew Wyeth-like scene of bird sanctuary
Deer Lagoon, Whidbey Island

The weather here is finally what I expected -- a gray blankety thing over the sky, enough nip in the air to build a fire in my little cottage stove. I'm going for a walk in the woods in a bit, up to a place called The Deep Dark Cedar Grove. The combination of piney woods and shadow and fairy tale wildlife with broad stretches of beach and blue herons and majestic snow-capped moutain backdrops to ocean is unlike any other landscape I've seen. The universe is abundant, and I'm grateful to be in it.

Last night, the new writers came. One of them is Sigrid Nunez, the novelist and former assistant, friend and roommate of the late Susan Sontag. Um, yes. Of course she didn't tell us that at dinner. I sat next to her and chatted politely with the new women. When one said her name was Sigrid, I said hello Ingrid and then she said, It's Sigrid and I said, Oh! I love that name, and the only one I know of is Sigrid Undset! We're a female group here at Hedgebrook, and we'd already discussed Pearl S. Buck and how she'd won the Nobel Prize. I was obsessed with Sigrid Undset in my twenties, read all of her books when I saw them languishing on a used bookstore shelf with the Nobel Prize sticker on them. What can I say? I have always been a nerdy girl, and a trilogy about medieval Norway was just up my alley. This Sigrid and I then spent a few minutes trying to recall the names of the few women who've won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and we only came up with six. I checked later, and there are actually thirteen. We talk about everything at the table, and not all of it is about Nobel prize winners. One of the writers, a young rising star poet, can sing all the verses to Beyonce songs, and one of the writers who left was a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and speechwriter for the Defense Secretary of the U.S. of A. Hedgebrook is truly the most unpretentious place on the literary planet. The ages of the writers since I've been here range from the 20s to the early 70s, and we are black, white, lesbian, straight, famous, probably will be famous and oh so not famous. That being said, I have allowed myself to feel extremely intimidated at times which is just another excuse to stop doing the work, the writing, and shake slugs out of shells and lie naked on the bed, an emperor with no clothes staring foolishly at the ceiling.

Anyway. It's Saturday, and the whole day of solitude stretches ahead, so here's the rest of the story.

This Sigrid also told us about where she was teaching in the fall, and that's when my tiny little mother mindbegan its inexorable pursuit of who IS this woman, she's SOMEONE. My recollection files have been moved back into the dark recesses of my brain, though. In any case, I went on a walk after dinner with my mind still whirring and wondering who the heck this Sigrid was. Was it Paul Auster's wife? No, that was Siri Hustvedt. You know the drill. Maybe it was the midges who swarmed me on my walk, diverted me while the brain did its work, but Nunez came to mind somewhere on the way home, a tendril that I grabbed that was attached to Susan Sontag and then all the rest. I'm glad that I didn't realize who it was when I was sitting next to her at the dinner table because I would have fallen right out of my chair. OK! I'm not saying anything else (I can be a bit of a literary star fucker). The tiny print is figurative, ya'll. 

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.  
Oscar Wilde

Thank you for your kind comments over the last couple of weeks -- I have little time to be online, so I haven't responded to any of them, but I really appreciate them. I want to reassure all those braver souls than I that the moon slug or snail that plopped out of the shell the other day was dead, dead, dead, so I couldn't have sent it back into the ocean. I'm generally not a squeamish person, either, but I have my limits. I actually love spiders, though, so here's a poem:

A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Walt Whitman


  1. I'm so glad to know that someone I admire and like as much as I do you is a (figurative) starf*cker, too. {Just to be clear, I'm not talking about TV or movie stars.} I can't help it; I feel awe. I tend to stay back and admire from afar, to ensure the star's privacy, and the feeling always passes, eventually, but the blinding light, the fantasy of "otherness," "beyond-me-ness" is there for a bit, and I try to bear it with grace. It just is.
    You cannot possibly know the vicarious enjoyment that this residency of yours is giving to me. It is nourishing my spirit, and I am so thankful that you are sharing it through your postings - a great act of generosity, and so typical of you. XO

  2. The glory of all this, my dear Elizabeth, is that you BELONG there among the Sigrids of the literary world and get ready to be fucked (figuratively of course) because you are a star too!

  3. I have absolutely nothing to add to what Karen and Angella said except...O my soul, indeed!

  4. O I love this post. And to think you're in my part of the planet. I was just in the Skagit, near Whidbey and I waved to you. did you see me? Yes, this part of the world is beautiful and I feel blessed to live here (and thank the goddess it's cooled off!!)

    I'm SO GLAD you're there and being nurtured by those lovely women around you, famous and otherwise. And thanks for the Whitman poem, made me cry.


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  6. The universe can definitely be abundant. Exciting times.

  7. I admire the scope of your literary knowledge. Sigrid would not have triggered any memory cues for me at all. In fact I've tried to read Susan Sontag and couldn't really make heads or tails of it. I'm just not that kind of thinker. Having said that, I HAVE read Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster and Pearl S. Buck, so I guess that counts for something. :)

    (And why am I making this comment about me??)

    It's interesting how our minds make these connections. How you can talk to someone and know you KNOW something, and then take a walk later and connect the dots.

  8. Oh, and I was going to guess that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won a Nobel Prize, but actually she won a Pulitzer. Not the same thing. :)

  9. Comment 1 and 2.....yes, yes, yes.
    You are a star to be fucked as know what I mean..

    And no return comments are necessary. Just the fact that you have taken time out to share with us is has been fun, fun, fun!

  10. I've read all of Sigrid Undsett's books too! I was named for Kristin Lavransdatter and even had a chance to visit Norway because of my interest. It's so good to find someone else who has read all those books.

  11. I have thought Whidbey Island must be a slightly mysterious, wonderful place in the world. Your description, ". . .piney woods and shadow and fairy tale wildlife with broad stretches of beach and blue herons and majestic snow-capped mountain backdrops to ocean . . ." has me longing for a journey there.

    Looked up Sigrid Nunez at her website. Gosh.



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