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Live from Rio Hondo, Day 1

May 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Today I'm holed up in the gorgeous mountains of northern New Mexico with an amazing (and, frankly, very intimidating) cast of writers.  The food is good, the scenery is spectacular, but it's the casual insights and crumbs of writing wisdom that make this worthwhile.

Insights like this exchange, which came about during this morning's round-table criqitue session:

"The Dalai Lama is very good at observing people."

"Yes, but he doesn't eat their heads."

So true.  So very true.

I always feel like a complete poseur at a workshop like this.  Everybody else is so smart and so talented and so accomplished, and I'm just... me.   I listen with awe as they analyze stories, taking them apart and figuring out how to improve them, reweave them, rebuild them.  Discussions of themes and symbolism and philosophical arguments about whether a particular approach to a particular kind of story can work.

Me?  I'm overjoyed if I can find one intelligent piece of feedback to give on any particular piece of writing.  Often I can't, because everybody here is functioning on a level so far above me.  Even the Dalai Lama thing—would I have considered His Holiness's lack of head-eating if it hadn't been pointed out this morning?  Probably not.

The scenery does compensate for the crushing sense of not belonging here.  (Even if, as I type this, I can hear the constant keening of the banshee wind.  The accursed, damnable, banshee wind.)  So while I feel like a complete fake, I can take comfort in views like this:

and this:

I had a few more photos, but I've already resized them once and made a hash of things.  I'm too lazy to go back and try again.  Maybe later this week.


Steve Halter May 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm
That looks like a cool place and, it sounds like one also. While the Dalai Lama doesn't eat people's heads, the Dali Llama certainly does. When surrounded by people who seem to be operating way above you, try raising an eyebrow and looking inscrutably dubious.
Tengland May 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm
I once said, in a place and workshop similar to the one you're in now, "I couldn't find anything wrong (with the submission), so I went back and looked until I found something." Walter considered this for a T-shirt, but it wouldn't work, too many words. I'm not sure if he was being sarcastic ...
Steve Halter May 17, 2011 at 8:11 am
Have you ever read "Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character?" It's a series of autobiographical stories that Feynman recounts. Some of these are about his time at Los Alamos during WWII. He was a fairly young physicist surrounded by some of the great names of the time. In one story he recounts how Niels Bohr and his son would stop by to talk with him one on one. Eventually he found out (from Bohr's son) that while most of the physicists (especially the great names) were too in awe of Bohr to argue with him, Feynman would point out any to be flaws in Bohr's thinking as they went over things. Feynman said that once anyone got him talking about physics, he would forget all about who he was talking with and just talk about the physics. That was, of course, exactly what Bohr wanted. So, there you go--forget about who anyone is, just talk about the writing. Embrace your inner Feynman.
Ian May 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm
I have indeed read that. A classic! The problem with applying the Feynman approach to life is that it really only works if you're a genius. Or if people wholeheartedly believe you're a genius. There's no danger anybody will ever mistake me for an effective, intelligent person.
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