The Magic of Saying Yes: An interview with Bethany Bylsma

Tender Wild is coming up October 18 through 20 at the Whidbey Institute. This workshop is described as a chance to explore the wild parts of writing, the tender stories that must be told, and ways to engage yourself and others in writing practices that bring life back. To understand more about the opportunity, I connected with facilitator Bethany Bylsma. Here’s our conversation. —Marnie Jackson

Learn more about the program and register here.


Marnie: What do you hope a participant will get out of this program?

Bethany: I hope participants in this writing retreat will collect much more than word counts on a page by the end of our weekend. Really Tyler and I want to create a place for creativity to flourish. Yes, there will be writing . . . but we hope those who join us will get to know the land of the Whidbey Institute, we hope they will walk, and listen, and tell stories to themselves and to each other. We want great rest and rejuvenation to be a piece of the process as well. It is a retreat about being well, with ourselves, with our stories, and with each other.


What is your background?

My background is quite varied. I grew up in Alaska, and then Central East Africa, and learned to listen and observe keenly there. Nearly never able to blend in to my surroundings, I used writing as a way to record my process and experiences. I moved and traveled scores of times in my 20s, winding up in Seattle for graduate school. I am now a licensed mental health therapist and work in Seattle with clients around rest, rehabilitation, story, archetype, and walking towards wellness. I began doing retreats as a way to share and teach with more than one person at a time.


What’s the background of your co-facilitator? 

Tyler Dunning, my co-facilitator, became a dear friend 10 years ago when we worked at a non-profit together in San Diego. He had a bit of wild in him, coming from Montana. After our work together ended, we remained penpals. Very early in our friendship, writing was the way we stayed in touch.


Who is the audience for this program? 

We are looking for anyone and everyone who is interested in the woods, or in writing, or in resting for a weekend, or in collaborating around creative arts.


What if someone has minimal writing experience? Can they still participate?

 You don’t have to be a professional writer—I am far from it. In fact, Tyler and I have joked that he is the professional writer, and I am the professional feeler. We are creating a space for people to feel deeply, expand the ideas of how writing could serve them in whatever they do in the world. It isn’t about finishing a book, or evening starting one. This retreat is more about gathering people around the idea of language and describing truthfully the world we live in.


What can someone expect in terms of the flow of the program?

I think there is magic in the Whidbey woods. And I think there is magic when people say yes to new, creative endeavors in community.

Our time is set up around a basic rhythm of gathering together for conversation, writing on various prompts together, and taking moments for rest, relaxation, and quiet—meals, yoga, naps, hikes. There’s also time for some special interest groupings. Tyler will speak specifically to those who wish to navigate the publishing world. I will speak on the therapeutic benefits of writing, and our friend Sarah Goettsch will be joining us for yoga instruction and workshops around poetry.


What motivated you to choose Whidbey Institute as a place for this program?

I’ve been so grateful for and changed by the time I’ve spent at the Whidbey Institute over nearly six years. I’ve attended retreats and workshops, and I’ve come on a Saturday to just spend some hours in the woods. The Whidbey Institute was the only choice for me in pursuing a venue. I value the story of this land, the way it permeates every piece of programming I’ve attended. I wanted to be able to share this special place with a group of new friends.


What else would you like to share?

I think there is magic in the Whidbey woods. And I think there is magic when people say yes to new, creative endeavors in community. I hope we can fill the Whidbey Institute with laughter and meaningful conversation this weekend in October. I can hardly wait for it to arrive.

September 9, 2019

Nature Encounters
People & Partners