Chocolate chip cookie aficionados, for instance, probably know that dietician and food lecturer Ruth Wakefield invented the famous dessert by accident. Intending to whip up a batch of chocolate butter drop cookies, she was out of baker’s chocolate, so chopped up some semi-sweet chocolate to take its place. But instead of the chocolate dispersing throughout the cookie, the pieces retained their original form—and voila, the world’s first Toll House cookie was born.
On a way more somber note, Scottish lab technician Alexander Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find an odd fluffy mold growing on a culture plate of bacteria. Closer inspection of the mystery glob showed that it was preventing the growth of the bacteria, and thus, life-saving penicillin was born. Other accidents have led to the creation of Bakelite; the microwave oven, and even Slinky, perhaps the most popular baby boomer toy ever.
I’d never personally experienced this sort of alchemy—until last month.
That’s when I saw a Facebook post about a women-only writing retreat in Guatemala.
Taking place on the shores of Lake Atitlan (thought to be one of the most beautiful and pristine bodies of water in the world, it’s surrounded by Mayan villages, three volcanoes and lush jungle-covered mountains), the workshop would be run by Joyce Maynard, one of my longtime favorite writers. Maynard is almost exactly a year older than me, and her terrific memoir essays are regularly seen in The New York Times. And, oh yeah, she has also penned a slew of NYT best-selling books, both fiction and nonfiction.
Maynard has been conducting this annual workshop—under 20 participants at a time—for nearly two decades, so I knew it would not only be well organized, but amazing. It was also very expensive.
This year, though, the workshop announcement had a new caveat.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, Maynard was offering two partial scholarships to two women over the age of 40, making it possible for others who might not have the financial resources to take part. So, quickly and before I lost my nerve,
I sent in the required letter about myself, and a sample of my writing (thanks to Girl Clown Dancing, there were a lot
Two days later, I re-read the post—and found I’d made a really big mistake.
To get a cross-section of ages, the scholarships were only being offered to women under 40 years old, not the opposite.
I posted back that I was terribly sorry for the error, and that perhaps another time, Maynard would consider offering funding to folks in my age category. She wrote right back, replying she was sorry she had disappointed me, and hoped that I understood her reasoning. I told her that of course I did (and, I did), and once again, apologized for my error.
Then, a few days later, Maynard’s assistant called.
Some other funding had been found, not as much as the other scholarships, but enough to pay my travel costs and lodging. Was I interested in going?
At this writing, my airfare has been booked, and being the researcher I am, I’ve also printed out articles about the charming village of San Marcos La Laguna, where the retreat will take place. Maynard has provided a great packing list, too, along with many other travel tips and the workshop schedule, which will run for a full and glorious nine days.
In order to be considered, I also had to pen an original memoir essay, which will be workshopped by Maynard. (So did every other participant; I’m looking forward to sitting in while those are also critiqued.) And there’s more: the opportunity to take yoga classes; get a massage or two, eat native dishes, and of course, go shopping (I'm especially looking forward to visiting the women's cooperative weaving store).
Even though I’ve been around the world, I’m an anxious traveler. But in the last week or so, that initial nervousness is starting to be replaced by a giddy excitement. In fact, my gut tells me that this journey promises to rank right up there with a few other major life-changing ones--traveling to China to bring my daughter home, and filming BOTSO, my documentary film, in and around Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia.
And as a friend says, when you can, always take the plunge.
My plane departs in a few days.
To the lake, I go!
Have you ever been to a retreat? Or, what are your favorite travel memories? I look forward to your comments
P.S. Just in time for this year’s retreat, Joyce Maynard has written a terrific Facebook post on how the workshop—and her love for Guatemala—came to be. www.facebook.com/joyce.maynard.14/posts/10156938100718056