"I have come to realize that a good workshop moves you out of your comfort zone. From these, I feel I have been catapulted! " Although at first Terry found it hard to accept that people thought her writing was good, she soon found herself reimagining what was possible. "I'm still not sure why, but I think that I am in the process of reinventing myself. I had years of being a caregiver, and I've had years of being a photographer. This kind of writing for me is different. These workshops have been experiences of renewal and growth."
When asked to share why she had come, Terry described her photographs that incorporated microscopic images of the cellular structures of plants with the image of the plant itself. She expressed her desire to write a book that incorporated her photographs. Participants were asked whether they would like to volunteer to share a project in one of the evening sessions and ask for the group's feedback in whatever form they would find helpful. Buoyed by the group's interest in her images, Terry volunteered to do the first of these evening presentations. As she explained how she planned to organize the work, with a technical explanation of how each image was made, the group pushed back. "Keep the mystery!" they exclaimed. "Write from your heart."Terry was perplexed - her background was in writing scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and in controversial subject areas that often evoked vehement rebukes of the work. Terry hesitated. But push-back from her fellow writers, expressed with encouragement, made Terry reconsider her book in a dramatically new way.
Of the experience, Terry said "When I was a child I wanted to be a photographer and a natural history writer. The photography simmered, but the writing barely smoldered. The workshops have been fantastic in rekindling that goal."
After her Iceland experience, Terry realized that Maine Media offered a writing and photography travel workshop in Hawaii in February. This seemed like an incentive she could give herself to push the book forward. As the registration deadline loomed, and she had barely started writing, she wavered. But she settled down to work and the writing did begin to sound in her words, "if not mysterious, certainly not stiffly scientific."
In Hawaii, Terri was inspired by poems, myths, writing and imaging making, fueled by visits to the botanical gardens, steam vents in lava-filled landscapes, rainbows across areas of new earth, and the glowing crater of the volcano at night. In the wake of the lava's destruction, new land is built, plants invade and there is promise of renewal which is just what happened with Terry's life and work.
Sometimes serendipity happens, and we follow its path to an unexpected turn that brings new light into our lives. That's what happened to Terry Ashley, a retired geneticist from Yale, who ended up taking two of Maine Media's travel workshops last year.
"In late January of 2014 my friend Barb was visiting my husband and I and she told me that some old classmates had gone on a "Girl Friends" retreat in Iceland. My immediate response was "I'm jealous". The next day I received the Maine Media Workshop catalog with the announcement of the Writers Retreat in Iceland."
Terry was the primary caregiver for a husband with severe health problems. As his health declined over an eight-year period, her ability to travel or embark on new adventures became increasingly restricted. When the catalog arrived in the mail, Terry couldn't consider leaving him overnight, never mind for a week. But time passed, and in late July he was failing rapidly. A hospice social worker asked her if there was something she had been wanting to do that she hadn't been able to do.
"This Writers retreat in Iceland,"
Terry replied, "But my passport has expired and I don't think I can get it renewed in time." The hospice worker told her about expedited passports, and , still grieving from her husband's passing, she arrived in Iceland.
At first Terry was concerned that others might know each other and she would be an outsider. Or that they would have more experience and skill in creative writing, whereas she had written scientific papers all of her life. She found that the safe, creative space that was a fundamental tenet of the workshop's format, allowed every participant to take risks, write from their own experiences, and share their work.