Darlene Zimbardi

Interviewed by Alice Taylor, volunteer

Residency September 2013


Darlene Zimbardi photo




Why did you apply to Hypatia-in-the-Woods?

I wasn’t sure that I would ever get a job in education and I knew I wanted to write children’s books. When I first applied, I had that in mind. I would develop ideas and an outline for a children’s book. That would be huge progress.


The residency was delayed because I did get a job in education. I came a year later and was finally emotionally ready to work on the next project. Not so long ago I was on life support. This new project, If Only George Clooney were My Doctor, is a fictional account of what a young woman goes through when she is first diagnosed with a chronic illness and then her experiences in dealing with the chronic illness. Earlier, I started developing a screenplay on the same subject with my friend and writing partner, Aly (Alwssia) Valentone. I was confused about where I wanted the screenplay to go since I hadn’t finished the original material. If Aly and I hadn’t started the screenplay I would have just kept putting off this project instead of delving into it again. Now that I am finishing the original, we can go forward with the screenplay. 


Have you had other residencies?

No, this is my first.


So this autobiographical?

It’s fiction, but it’s based on my experiences. And the experiences of others that I have talked to about their illness. People think that everyone acts perfect when things go wrong. Or, we all pull together. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes our lives go back to being perfectly normal and sometimes they have a blip and then get better. And sometimes it doesn’t happen.


I came here with 12 scenes. They were done in New York with staged readings twice but I never did anything afterwards. Now it is 80 pages. I think lots of things may need to be edited out, but it’s better to have more than less. Each little bit, day by day, didn’t feel as if it were a lot, but then the other day when I sorted it out, WOW, I wrote a lot (laughter). It’s the whole point of being here. I should have the Clooney piece finished by Friday, so I can send it off to Judith Pullman (Hypatia residency alumnus, 2009) to be my consultant or official reader so I can see what I should do with this piece now.


Are you a full time writer? What are your other life roles?

I aspire to be a full-time writer. In my past life, I worked for a TV station. I was in a union and I made a good salary. I went back to grad school and studied theatrical arts, and was a stage manager. That was a lot of fun. When breaking into a new career, especially theatre, unless you are in the theatrical union, it’s hard to make a living on the smaller productions – even though you love them. So I returned to TV production while we were in New York City. We were there when 9/11 happened. We knew we wanted to do something else but weren’t sure how to transition. Then my husband had a photography show with Blue Sky Gallery in Portland. It was the first time we had been here and we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, I went back to school to be a teacher and got my license just as they began cutting teaching positions. Until things go back to normal, if they do, I will write.


In general, what influences your work?

Life and connectedness. We all share experiences and help others through their journey. Maybe someone reads something that I wrote that will help them through whatever they are going through. Writing is also a good way to process things within myself. I could write a great piece and may never do anything with it. But I settled myself and sorted it out. Or, I might send it to friends with the hope that they will enjoy it.


What have you learned about yourself at Hypatia?

When I first arrived I created a computer file on what I noticed about being myself, and what I could correct at home. Here you get to contemplate your life, not just writing. I’m not always so good at that and then I am. That was processed by walking the labyrinth every morning – that was one of the rituals.

I lived in New York, and now in Portland. I am always busy, busy, busy, busy. I was worried how I would do in the silence at Hypatia. I came Sunday afternoon. On Monday I got up and started writing like crazy. It was shocking. The longer I was here, the more I thought about writing. Every day I’d walk in the woods. I might not think about writing on the path, but I’d come back and everything would happen. I have to admit maybe silence is good (laughing) and walking in the woods is good. Nature is nourishing. There is something that is so restorative for your soul, your mind, everything. It opens up those creative channels. That’s the biggest thing I learned.


I know you have been at Hypatia-in-the-Woods for almost 3 weeks. Do you wish it had been a different length and why?

I would recommend the whole month. The first week was a combination of just being so happy that I was here and doing as much as I could. The second week I stretched out a little bit and met with the wonderful board members or maybe someone cooks you a wonderful dinner. And, I needed that because all that intensity is not healthy. Then I honed back in. I needed the balance, being nurtured by all the nature.

You don’t realize how much nourishment you need. When you are working on something intensely, it takes from you physically and emotionally. While you are working, you need to nourish your being. That’s why you need the longest bit.


What place in Holly House did you gravitate to?

Inside the house – this general area where I moved the sofa to face the window. If I wasn’t sitting at the table, I’d be sitting here. The main thing was to look at nature.

Outside – what I really enjoyed is a little spot to the right of the path. It’s on high ground and you have a clear view of the water. Along the path someone carved a nice little chair out of a tree. I go out there and read or write. I feel that I am out. No one else is around.

One of the most magical things is the deer on the labyrinth. But, I’d never see them. I’d go out at different times and only see deer droppings and hoof prints in different patterns. Last week, I was running out of Holly House to see Carolyn (board member) and I nearly ran into a deer. I finally saw one! I did the labyrinth in the full moon. I could go on forever about good moments.


What sights, sounds or smells on the grounds inspired you? And, how did they affect you?

How they affected me, now that’s the most interesting point. I believe they would affect anyone in a very calming manner. A leaf never sounded so loud. Here I am in a beautiful, silent woods and a leaf falls off a tree. I hear the whole journey. I hear the final plunk on the ground.

I remember the first morning I went out to do the labyrinth. I looked up and there’s a leaf doing this little dance in the air. It’s high up and not connected to a spider web. The tree in the labyrinth had cobwebs, that were not really cobwebs. It wasn’t the complicated webs you typically see, but string throughout the tree. It was spooky and magical, like a good omen for starting. You need this other-worldliness.

The one thing I felt immediately was Elspeth’s presence. When I walked in the door, it was so nice. There’s a picture of her and the standard poodle and I felt that at different points I could say, “Thanks for letting me be here.” “Your spirit lives on.” “How wonderful this is that you accepted all these women here.” I felt protected, supported, and felt that these women – because there are memorials everywhere, be it the memorial tree, labyrinth, the bench – these women really cared and that you are cradled in this magical space to be creative.


What were you most happy to accomplish at Hypatia?

Confidence that I could be an artist. I questioned myself. How did they pick me? Why did they pick me? Being immersed here, and having the ideas come, felt wonderful. My nightmare is – Do I have anything to say? Can I be interesting? Can I be creative?

I have the self-awareness that there is something magical, that there is learning, that there is a journey. Having this journey, even if nothing happens with everything I have worked on, is such an important journey to experience.


What was different about what you hoped to accomplish and what you actually accomplished?

I arrived here with 8 different things I could work on. I thought that each day I could work on a new piece, or if something doesn’t come I could go to that piece or that piece. I wrote a poem. I usually don’t write poems. That surprised me. Things took a different turn, but all was a good turn. I thought I would have more of a variety of writing, but it came down to 2 projects. I thought maybe I would be prolific and do more (laughter).


What inspired your work the most during your stay?

The other worldliness of the Holly House – when I wake up from sleeping in the loft, I can look down through the lower windows and have a different perspective on the world.

Nature and taking the time to go out – one day I went out and watched a thunderstorm come across the water. If I am at home I don’t think I have that luxury to sit for a half an hour and watch a thunderstorm. Even though I have nothing on my schedule, I just won’t do it. It was amazing and a little bit scary seeing the lightning in the distance. The wind kicked up, but behind me it was all blue. It came overhead, bringing only a tiny speckle of water. I totally saw the storm blow. Taking the time, it’s a different kind of meditation. I could sit there and try to meditate or I can feel the magic of the nature here.


When you look back on your experience at Hypatia-in-the-Woods, what memory do you want to keep?

The contentedness of being supported – the Hypatia board members and my husband cared enough to believe in me and give me this wonderful experience of time.

This inner calmness – I want to set aside time, not just to write but to make space to write. It’s not just sitting in front of my computer, it’s all that other pre-space that gives me the ideas.


What was the one thing that you wished you had brought that you left at home?

A picture of my husband and our animals that I could set out. Of course, I have my cell phone that has photos, but I don’t want to be playing with my phone. We have the picture of Elspeth here so it would have been nice to have my husband and animals here as well.


What was one thing that you brought that you wished you had left at home?

I brought a lot of books from the public library. I brought an Anne Lamott, I enjoy her books. I brought some books about writing exercises if I was stumped. But, this place is enough. There is great literature here.


What three words would best describe your experience at Hypatia?

Peaceful, productive -I’d like a more elegant word for productive, and indulgent.


How would you like the public to respond to the work that you accomplished at Hypatia?

I would hope that they make a connection and that it draws them in. Healing isn’t the right word. The word isn’t learning, and it’s not just empathy. Sympathy is not the right word either. It’s the connection that can ease whatever they are going through. So maybe healing is the right word, but I would search for a different word – more spiritual.


What advice would you offer to women thinking about applying for a residency?

Do it! Judith Pullman told me about Hypatia. I kept thinking, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I haven’t published anything. Should I apply? Am I qualified to apply?”

Judith said, “Yes!” And, I kept responding, “Are you sure?” Judith would say, “Yes!” Even then, I felt like I needed to have proven myself in some way to apply. I know nothing about how they analyze the application, but do it! Whatever your medium is, give yourself the gift of discovering things about yourself. Yes, it’s important to do your artistic work but you may be unsettled within yourself because other things get in the way at home. You really need something like this. Private time, private space. No matter how much you love family or how much you love your life, private time can be a huge insight. Do it!

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