BACK FROM ABIQUIU (pronounced Abba-Q) and am working on an essay on the experience.
In a nutshell:
1) small cabins with mice as roommates
2) cold showers in another building
4) raccoons in the trash in the separate bathroom
5) cafeteria-style food (with nothing between meals!)
6) a nearby group of prep school kids having bonfires and chanting something weird til late at night
7) workshops with people of varying skill levels and/or no workshopping experience
8) cabin full of women who seemed to want to party/drink late into the night vs. settle down to work
You get the picture. I wouldn't say it was the best experience of my life in that respect. However - it is BEAUTIFUL there, and I had some amazing day trips to a monastery, a shrine, Santa Fe, and Taos. The scenery alone made up for it. Just traveling alone was the best experience, as it's not something I have much practice with. I also met some great women who were really focused on writing, and that I hope to keep in touch with. My roommate (not the mouse, the human one) was fantastic - Hi Anita!
All in all, I'd say it was a success. This is life, right? You try something, you take risks, it's sometimes great, sometimes half and half. These are the things that make the funny stories you can tell at Thanksgiving when that hideously long silence comes over everyone and you wish you'd stayed home in your pajamas eating ice cream and watching the Addams Family marathon.
I'll be posting the essay in pieces, like a serial.
NOW THE EXERCISE:
Grab a newspaper, or a magazine article that's written in several columns. Going through it quickly, cross off words that don't appeal to you, as well as articles (as, a, the) and conjunctions (and, but) and prepositions (in, on, of, at, etc.). Circle the words that do appeal to you - that are juicy, sharp, dark, intense, hard, bright. Whatever sound and texture they have that 'rings' for you, circle them.
Now, go back over what you've circled. If you're a poet, see if you can make a poem out of the words in the same order as they appear in the article. Fill in extra words (like the articles, prepositions, etc. that you crossed out. We just wanted them out of the way initially) and organize it into lines/stanzas. If you need to reorder it to have it make sense, go ahead, but if you can keep it in the original order and the leaps aren't too weird, do it. The point is to have those leaps and surprise yourself and the reader.
If you're a fiction writer - can this be the first sentence and/or last sentence in a micro or flash fiction piece? If the article is long and you keep going with it, maybe you end up with the first paragraph.
This is incredibly fun and you never know what you'll end up with. It also takes the pressure off of you - the words are already there! It's like a puzzle; you just have to find the right piece inside what's there.
Send me the results. I'd love to post them!