Life, Writing

Taos Toolbox 2012

June 27, 2012

Well, it’s over, I’m back, and what an experience.  Taos Toolbox was fantastic.  Two weeks off in a row seemed like an eternity before I left, but it passed in the blink of an eye.  I loved it, and I’ve come home a different person, feeling pushed and focused and energized.  Wow.

I flew out of LAX late on Sunday morning, departing from a bizarre little terminal accessible only by shuttle, and came down in Santa Fe in the early afternoon.  Smallest airport I’ve ever seen; seriously, it was like pulling up to the front door of a rest stop on the side of the road.  One gate, no waiting, free wi-fi, and my first airport sandwich with green chiles as a default ingredient.  (I’m a fan on all counts.)  A couple of hours later my classmate Pat arrived, and we took a rental car north, through Taos and up into the mountains to the Taos Ski Valley.

The lodge where we stayed, built on a steep slope, was, well…I like the word “charming.”  (Definition:  “attractive and welcoming, if slightly malfunctioning.”)  Some folks had better luck with their rooms than others.  Mine was just fine.  The views were fantastic.  We were ten thousand feet up, and I nearly knocked myself unconscious dragging my suitcase up the driveway.  Thin, thin air, and dry; you’d think I’d be used to that, but it makes Los Angeles feel like a lush, oxygen-rich environment by comparison.

On Monday, we were off to the races.  Our instructors were the magnificent Nancy Kress and Walter Jon Williams, two fantastic writers whose careers I’ve been following since I started reading in the field.  Weekday classes began at 10 AM with a lecture from Nancy, followed by critiques, lunch, more critiques, and a closing lecture from Walter.  The first couple of days were all about  getting to know classmates, matching faces to manuscripts, and immersing ourselves in writing focus.  I was pretty much convinced I was in the right place by Tuesday night.  Week one blazed by quickly.

It occurred to me on Saturday that week two would be busier and harder-working than week one.  We’d had weeks to prepare the first week’s critiques, but most of us had to produce new or revised projects for week two, applying what we’d learned.  So there was only a day or two’s notice for the second wave of pages.  I’d barely started when our weekend guest lecturer, Daniel Abraham, arrived to deliver a highly useful talk on career management that I found both pragmatic and inspiring.  (Neat trick!)  We capped off the week with a group dinner at a nice tapas place down in Taos.

My first-week critique of Rogue Souls blew up the outline sufficiently that I  needed a new project for week two, so on Sunday I dusted off a stalled short story, drove to a nearby (relative term) coffee shop, and spent three-plus hours polishing up and expanding it.  Afterwards, I picked up a few supplies for week two (read:  beer and extra socks) and detoured out to the Rio Grande Gorge to take a look.  Here are my meager photography skills in action (I would have gone for a better photo, but my strapless camera was giving me vertigo!):

Then, bam, week two was underway.  And it just flew by.  Lectures, critiques, meals, gatherings, and (theoretically) sleep. I was already missing people by Monday, and saying goodbye on Friday night was rough.  But on Saturday, at godawful o’clock in the morning, Pat, Corry and I were loading up the car and waving the mountain goodbye.  Whirlwind.

We came, we saw, we critiqued.  This was my first organized workshop experience in over seventeen years, and whoever described it as Clarion weeks seven and eight pegged it pretty nicely.  But a lot has changed since I went to Clarion:  I’ve lost my youthful  invulnerability, gained some wisdom and experience, and came into Taos with my mind open and ready to learn.  I may be a better writer now than I was then, but more importantly, I think I’m a better student.  And I hope that doesn’t stop with Taos, because I don’t want to stop improving, regardless of what happens next.

A terrific experience, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks, everybody!

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