wordjunkies

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But (conjunction; used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.) November 15, 2012

Filed under: Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 5:06 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Usually when I sit down to prepare my thoughts for broad-spectrum dispersal, I have an intention in mind, an idea of what I wish to impart. Not today. Today my brain is a slagheap. A cheerful slagheap, but nonetheless. Today my brain feels like mush—florid and soupy, incapable of achieving aspic, much less thought. Today all that stands between my soup-bowl of a head and oncoming traffic are the twin pleasures of sun noodling through the window and coffee traveling at breakneck speed through my veins. Words have not so much failed me as they have hurled themselves willy-nilly into the raging pandemonium that is my anxiety-riddled carcass.

And what started that pandemonium in the first place? Words.

It’s been almost two months since my last entry to the land of WordPress. In that time 18,000 things have happened, some of them actually beyond the boney confines of my skull. Many were small and inconsequential. Some were large, and if I’m honest, equally inconsequential. There were a few exceptions: dinners with friends—old and new, a whirlwind visit with the amazing and dear Celina Mincey, the return of my daughter from England (with an MA in religion, no job, and a broken heart), and the mini-launching into the world of my first book, Please Kill Me and Other Life Lessons.  I say mini because I’ve neither publisher nor agent nor even plans for an ebook. What I do have, after three years of writing and perfecting and rewriting and scrapping and cursing the gods of language, is an editor. No big deal to most, perhaps, but huge for the woman who has so far shared this book with no more than five people. There are, I know, many people out there who can relate to the following.  

For years, I wanted to be a writer. Me and about 4.2 billion other people. After one decade of obsessively recording every detail of my life bisected by 2.5 decades of working, raising a child, leaving my husband and then returning to my husband—all while staunchly ignoring the siren-call of the pen—I decided to act on this desire. I wrote a book. The catalyst was, as it is for so many, a miserable death suffered by someone I love. Writing kept the grief at bay and gave me purpose. Three years later, the book was complete. Knowing it (I) wasn’t quite ready for the bestseller list, I went back to school to get an MFA. Twenty-three months later, degree in hand, I gave myself two months to clear my head and process. That actually took six months. Then I spent another month at my alma mater trying to simultaneously learn even more and say goodbye. By mid-August, I was ready; for eight weeks, I immersed myself in words.

And then I did what so many of you have done before me: I contacted an editor. Following a conversation to set goals and parameters, I sat down at my computer and willed myself to hit send.

But first, I considered not hitting send. Then I considered hitting send but immediately throwing myself in traffic (a thought that hasn’t yet left me, as evidenced above). I considered going to bed (it was 3 in the afternoon), I considered vomiting, I considered applying for a job—something simple involving numbers or fried chicken, no heart necessary. I played solitaire and bubble buster. I gave the cat water. I made dinner, didn’t eat, and looked at shoes on Zappos.

Twenty-four hours later, I finally hit send.

My editor promptly responded that she had received said tome, adding that she was “impressed.” In the absence of further elucidation, I promised myself she meant impressed with the words themselves rather than the fact that I had somehow managed to string 88,695 of them together in one document. Following that initial vote of quasi-confidence: silence. Not complete silence, for she did email again, quite promptly and in a tone balanced perfectly between warmth and professionalism, to ask when we could schedule a phone conference. But within this email, there was no further mention of the book, of the words, of what, dear reader, has become my life.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea—I’m not in any way bashing my editor. She’s a great writer, someone I respect and, most importantly, someone I trust. I chose her carefully among half a dozen qualified individuals. And the silence didn’t last weeks, only days. I am instead trying to relate the anxiety that is a writer. The anxiety that is, perhaps, anyone who puts her or his dreams on the line.

I replied. Yes! A phone conference would be perfect. (Though, really? I’m a writer, allergic to human contact but especially that which lacks alcohol and includes the spoken word—email was invented for people like me.) Then I tacked on a plea; if the book sucked she must not hesitate to tell me. Not, I promised, because I was tough, but because I needed to know. Exercising a modicum of control, I refrained from adding that there wasn’t enough anti-anxiety medication in the world to prevent me from ripping the skin from my eyeballs if I didn’t know soon.

Seeing her name in my inbox the next day, I held my breath and hit open.

“Annie,” it read, the book “does not suck” 

Ah, relief! I’d get to live!!

But wait! There was more. Fast on the heels of “suck” sprang a comma! And a but! Like this:

“does not suck, but…”

But? BUT? I screamed at the computer. There are no buts in such circumstances! There are “in fact”s. There are “at all”s. There are even “period”s–as in “the book does not suck, PERIOD”–but there are no buts!

And yet, there it was. Followed by a few more words of… I don’t even know. Caution? Reassurance?

“The book does not suck, but don’t worry, I will tell you what I think next week.”

My brain exploded! Again, not in anger, but in self-generated, no outside help required apprehension. Next week?! Don’t tell me next week! Tell me NOW, damn you! Tell me I suck (because this isn’t just a book we’re talking about). Tell me I am an abject failure. Tell me you think you love it, even if you aren’t yet ready to fully comment. TELL ME SOMETHING.

But no.

I was so nervous, I couldn’t even calculate the two hour difference between us. Three times I emailed to change our appointment before finally realizing my mistake and settling on the original time.

Which brings us to today. 

I’ve spent the last hour smacking at my computer with all of the pent up frustration of a writer who cannot for the life of her decide if writing is a tenable pastime. One I can perform without succumbing to the desire to open a vein or run beneath a falling piano or pay a hit man to sneak up on me in an alley. This could be the tipping point. Will it be words, or a career at Walmart?

 

2012 SWP Goodness (and not so goodness): Week Four September 19, 2012

 

                                “You have nothing to add to this conversation.”

 

This was the second sentence Kenneth Goldsmith ever said to me. It was the first day of his workshop, Uncreative Writing, which I chose because the description said absolutely nothing about “performance.” I was, along with everyone else who had been on campus since June 8th, suffering from an advanced case of week-four delirium exacerbated by prolonged exposure to greatness, anticipated loneliness (which I knew would set in the moment I bumped my suitcase over the threshold of my room at Snow Lion), and heat stroke. Perhaps that explains why I had, moments before Kenny G shot me down, been under the delusion that I had something relevant to say. In the wake of my public castigation, a few of my classmates paused in their over-stimulated squirming to offer an exhalation of commiseration, feeling for me in my lapse of judgment. Mr. Goldsmith, however, barreled ahead, either because I’ve perfected a talent for adopting an air of calm even when mortally wounded or because he simply didn’t give a good damn that one of his students was down and bleeding. Betting on the latter, I spent the last two hours of class in stubborn silence, alternately trying to decide if I should walk out or stay and see what other words of wisdom Goldsmith might offer.

Later that afternoon, when friend and SWP assistant Julie Kazimer asked how the workshop had gone, I came embarrassingly close to tears. In lieu of bursting into outraged weeping, I related the bruising my ego had undergone, concluding, in a very un-Annie Maier-like tone, “I think Kenneth Goldsmith might be an asshole.”

Julie asked if I wanted to switch to another workshop. Blame the heat, or perhaps my Catholic school upbringing—Yes, ma’am, Sister Vicious, I would like to come up to the front of the room so you can whack me on the head and call me a moron—but I really couldn’t decide. On one hand, I questioned the wisdom of taking writerly advice, otherwise known, in this instance at least, as an intellectual beating, from a man wearing a black hat, wide-striped shirt, and blue seersucker pants rolled several inches above sockless brown oxfords. On the the other hand, I suspected that such an amazing outfit would not appeal to, or even occur to, a person without some level of genius. Had it been week two, when I was still fresh, just hitting my stride, feeling confident and lively, the choice would have been easy. But it was week four and all I wanted was to go get a tattoo and drink my exhaustion into remission.

“Can I decide tomorrow?”

Yes, of course I could. I was at Naropa.

This then is the first moral of my story: If at first life slaps you to the ground, forget conventional wisdom, which would say to heave yourself upright and jump back into the fray, but forget too the overwhelming desire to run like hell and never return. Instead, lay there a moment. Think about the slap. How did it feel? What imprint did it leave? Was it even a slap? Look up at the sky. What are the clouds doing? Are they blue, gray, white? Is the sun shining, or does a light rain splash your unblinking eyes?

Once you’ve run through this or a similar list, then pick yourself up. Check for broken bones and/or blood. Do you need a bandage, stitches, a hug? Reassess. Only then, ask yourself, “What might I gain from diving back in?” Then go for it.

On Tuesday morning I was back in Sycamore, listening to Goldsmith expound on the ignorance of writers. Ah, I thought, maybe I’m not the first idiot he’s ever met.

Turns out, Goldsmith has met many idiots in his time, mostly in the form of students but also in the form of causes célèbres (“Success is for Hollywood.”), writers who waste time thinking about readers (“I’m not interested in a reader, I’m interested in a thinker.”), and artists who expect art to make sense in a linear, well ordered way (“Art does not play by the rules”). Indeed, such people form the basis of Goldsmith’s teaching method.

“This is stupid,” he repeatedly tells us in reference to various ideas, projects and assignments. “DON’T BE STUPID.”

Because I respect the mission, I forgive the delivery, and so shut off my brain—the anxiety ridden, under-confident part that blocks out so much of life—and listen. And in listening, I find myself captivated. Goldsmith isn’t thoughtless or brutal, as I believed. He doesn’t set out to piss off students. He sets out to make them square their shoulders and refuse to be intimidated. Given the benefit of a day or two, one comes to appreciate his brusqueness. Not because one likes being dismissed with the wave of even an articulate hand, but because one gets, perhaps for the first time, what all artists must accept in order to survive—time is short. Every one of Goldsmith’s indictments are delivered as reminders: given an ounce of opportunity, life will poke an extra-wide needle in your veins and suck out every gram of initiative, regurgitating your remains in slag heap of complacency and boredom. In between withering looks and repeated shouts of, “NO! Wrong answer!” he inculcates: Read this. Look up that. Check out this writer, this artist, this project. Pay attention. Share ideas. Do it all, he tells us, but do it with intention.

Each morning, we received the same exact assignment: Day 1: Take 3-5 pages of any piece of writing and replicate it. Day 2: Do it again. Day 3: Again. Day 4: And again. Sounds horrible, no? But it wasn’t. I can’t, in any reasonable amount of space, tell you why. The most surprising aspect of this assignment, though, was the amazing diversity of work it produced. By repeating the same exercise over and over, I learned to pay attention to every detail, every choice. “Chance operations,” Goldsmith told us, “remove the ego and create poems of choice.” However insignificant they may seem, each of those choices say “something about you as well as your source material.”

Imagine This:

  • Tom Phillips: http://humument.com/intro.html.  This is a long intro, but I encourage anyone interested in erasure, reappropriation, and/or William S. Burrough’s Cut-ups to read and explore Phillips.

  • Simon Morris: http://www.theagyuisoutthere.org/abotm/books/?p=1554. Conceptual artist who decided, after listening to a lecture by Kenneth Goldsmith it turns out, to retype Jack Kerouac’s On the Road word for word as a creative exercise and an “homage to the era that heralded unconstrained and improvisatory expressionism.” I find this idea fascinating, and can’t help but wonder how my perspective on writing might change if I were to undertake such a mission. Particularly if I chose a work that challenges my perceptions of normative understanding (Rulfo’s Perdro Paramo, for instance).  Can such a work be seen as an “entirely different text, one based on the original” (as Goldsmith states)?
 

I interrupt this program— September 5, 2012

Filed under: Naropa University,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 2:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

To present not a word, but an idea, perhaps better called a device, word related of course, used by writers across the globe, but particularly in the US where we tend toward grammatical laziness and enjoy hatcheting the King’s English, which maybe at this juncture should be called the Queen’s English, to denote a pause or, more often, a derailment in one’s train of thought.

Today, I present The Dash, otherwise known as —.

Why the dash? Several reasons come to mind, or rather flit unbidden and out of control across the landscape of my ever metamorphosing, twisted-neuron and distantly synapsed brain. First, though, a definition, garnered, after an unreasonable amount of research, from the website of the Capital Community College Foundation, not because CCCF offers the best description, but because its tone, both informative and quirky (quirky being my hands down favorite word), beats the absolute hell out of that of Rutgers University and GrammarBook.com, both of which are, though equally informative, very, very, sub-Sonoran desert very, dry. That CCCF’s site also has a typo in the very first line, the presence of which makes me ridiculously happy in an “irony is essential to life” sort of way, is an additional bonus. So reporteth they (as per Lewis Thomas):

The dash is a handy device, informal and esentially playful, telling you that you’re about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course — only you have to remember that the dash is there, and either put a second dash at the end of the notion to let the reader know that he’s back on course, or else end the sentence, as here, with a period (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/dash.htm).                                                                                                               

I decided to expound on the dash following three episodes involving not so distinctly related nouns: an hour of hot Vinyasa yoga, a large coffee swallowed in haste, and an open word document titled “Blog,” glaring at me with the unhelpful subheading “SWP Goodness Week Four.”

I don’t know about you kids, but I am sick to death of listening to myself extol the admittedly plentiful virtues of the Summer Writing Program. This is not the fault of Naropa University, nor of the program, nor, especially, of my week four instructor, Kenneth Goldsmith. No, the culprit is me. Or, more specifically, my habit of moving at a snail’s pace, particularly when blog writing. SWP has been over for almost two months to the day. Temperatures are down, at least in Boulder, tree limbs are easing their grip on chlorophyll-deprived leaves, and yet another presidential election lurks just weeks away. I’ve finished retooling my book, planned and held another NCWN regional meeting, and embarked on a series of yoga/pilates/aerial exercise classes at a new studio. Weather willing, I’m going to see Barack Obama speak (eloquently and with much passion) tomorrow noight, my daughter is closing in on her thesis, after which she will return home after a year in England, and my husband retires in two days. Which is to say, there’s so much going on RIGHT THIS MINUTE (at least in my caffeine-rinsed cerebellum) that I cringe at the thought of trying to remember exactly what I thought/felt/learned eight weeks ago while running between the Sycamore and PAC buildings on Naropa’s sweet campus. Not because I don’t want to share those many experiences (that was the week I got tattooed after all!), but because I feel my attention waning, and therefore cannot help but be concerned about you, my one or two faithful readers.

Which brings me to the dash. You’ll notice I haven’t used any dashes in this post, despite the fact that I am inordinately fond of them. Scattered as we all seem to be nowadays, the dash has taken over as a preferred mode of punctuation. In the middle of explaining the dynamics of 20th Century Russian poetry when a cow crosses your vision, calling to mind afternoons spent on Grandma’s farm and derailing the brilliant words of Osip Mandelstam? Toss in a dash! Expounding on the community-building capabilities of paper and pen (as opposed, of course, to that of the computer) when you remember you forgot to mention the last letter your Uncle Floyd wrote before being hanged by a troop of ill-groomed midgets outraged at skyrocketing paper prices? A dash saves the day.

And yet… And yet, the dash has, as do we all, a dark side. An insidious, hesitant, compulsive side that induces writers, myself most definitely included, to toss all rules of common sense and, dare I say it, decent grammar aside. Turning us into interruption prone, listener-negligent drones in pursuit of various brightly colored flights of fancy, skirting serious issues, losing track of vitally important yet now forgotten ideas, opinions, and arguments. Adopting a “playful,” even “whimsical” attitude toward words and thus risking our status as “serious” (ie, desperate for the attention of discerning audiences) writers. Here, for instance is the sage advice of GrammarBook.com’s Jane Straus:

While there are many possible uses of the em dash, by not providing additional rules, I am hoping to curb your temptation to employ this convenient but overused punctuation mark (http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/dashes.asp).

But wait. I should bracket that entire last paragraph, quote included, with a pair of what CCCF calls “emendations” (noun; an alteration designed to correct or improve a text), as it was not at all my intention to disparage the poor Dash, the em Dash if you will, but rather to explore my own wavering attentiveness, on and off the paper, and thereby try to decide for myself how I can possibly go back, or if indeed it is necessary to go back, and finish what I started (SWP Goodness) when all I want to do is howl about present day circumstances. Did such exercise work? Why yes, yes it did. Because I realize that I do indeed, for my own peace of mind (or piece of mind, both seem adequate here), need to complete my previous line of thinking.

Therefore, I interrupt my rambling, without hesitation, or further unmindful stalling, to offer this, the last installment in 2012 SWP Goodness:

But wait—this post is already too long.

 

2012 SWP Goodness: Week Three August 17, 2012

Filed under: Naropa University,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 12:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 Michelle Ellsworth: Brilliance in…

 

 

 

Disguise

verb

  • give (someone or oneself) a different appearance in order to conceal one’s identity
  • make (something) unrecognizable by altering its appearance, sound, taste, or smell
  • conceal the nature or existence of (a feeling or situation)

noun

  • a means of altering one’s appearance or concealing one’s identity
  • the state of having altered one’s appearance in order to conceal one’s identity

Yes, but brilliance disguised as what? I don’t know yet—stick with me and it may become clear. (Then again, it may not, but it’ll be fun at least for one of us—hopefully you, if not me as well.)

Day two:

50 million : 2 million

extinction of unknown species

Shape of books

 

At least I had/have some idea what these words meant—in their literal, etymological form, that is. Why I wrote them is another story. All, clearly, are open for conversation, and by day two it was quite obvious that Michelle Ellsworth is a woman who values conversation. Meaningful conversation. Which I love, even as I struggle to be an active participant.

The objective of day two, it seemed, was to delve further into obsolescence with a view to what it—the word, the definition, the myriad things thus affected—means to us personally. To find a way to connect with and so enter into dialogue with obsolescence. To this end, we spent the first half of class bottling our fears. No, not really. Only I did that, because as I’ve said, the idea of obsolescence is not one I embrace. Rather I find it frightening in a damn-it-all-to-hell, you-mean-I-can’t-fix-this? sort of way.

 

 

Laying out a collection of small glass bottles that looked like they came straight from a druggist—illegal or otherwise—and had been recently emptied, rinsed, and sterilized, Ellsworth instructed us to fill them with things we, in the event of their eminent demise, would want to preserve.

“Think of it (the exercise),” she instructed, “as leaving evidence of something unknown.”

A directive to which we, eight more or less intelligent students, responded by chewing on our pencil tips and trying to look thoughtful.

“Try not,” she continued over the sounds of our chewing, “to be too literal. Think of emotions/ideas/experiences/ambitions as species.”

There was a brief, almost imperceptible pause in our chewing.

“Think of your body,” yes, yes, we were with her now! “as an ecosystem!”

“I,” she then confided,” sometimes like to fill my bottles with spit. I have a collection.”

And here again was a small wave of relief: Ellsworth is brilliant for sure, but spit? Really? Blood donations and urine samples aside, the thought of even placing, much less SAVING, any body fluid in any container other than a napkin, tissue, or toilet is, to my Howard Hughes in training OCD brain, repulsive. And yet… I was relieved, because I love knowing that even brilliant people are normal in their own idiosyncratic ways. I love knowing that Einstein was a suck student who married his cousin, that Pythagoras thought beans were “evil,” and that Nikola Tesla wouldn’t touch anything round. And I found it entirely endearing that Michelle Ellsworth saves her spit. That, by the end of the week, I also found such practice artistically expressive and even intellectually edifying is further proof of her genius.

Anyway, back to the bottles. How would I fill mine? With words, of course. Some cut, teeny letter by teeny letter, from the SWP catalogue, others written, then erased, then saved as dust from the blackboard. I kind of like my bottle, and it did lead me, as Ellsworth promised to greater things.

And so I recommend this activity to you today. Think about obsolescence, what that means to you, and fill the container of your choice with some symbol representing that thing, or that meaning. And please, let me hear how it goes.

Then I’ll tell you what else I’m saving.

 

2012 SWP Goodness: Week 3 August 10, 2012

Image

Photo From: The Objectification of Things, 2008; photo credit Juan Carlos Salvatierra

 

Obsolescent                                                                                                                                  

adj

  • the process or condition of going out of date or being no longer in use
  • falling into disuse or becoming out of date

Ignorant                                                                                                                                        

adj

  • destitute of knowledge or training
  • resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or education

 

Week Three: Science, Sanity, & Evolution

Michelle Ellsworth: Preparations for Obsolescence

(http://www.michelleellsworth.com/)

Okay, I have to change the format of these entries. This week, lists just will not work. Not only because my brain is pumped up on a combination of caffeine, adrenaline, and sleeplessness, but also because reviewing my notes from Week Three transported me right back to Lincoln Studio, Naropa University, June 25, 2012, rendering me semi-psychotic and thus completely incapable of orderly thought.

Objectives for Michelle Ellsworth’s (http://motivationalvideoarchive.org/) workshop were listed (in the SWP catalogue, which I have only thanks to Dennis Etzel, Jr.) thus:

“This class will look at the science of extinction on both a macro/physical and micro/emotional level. We will: 1) attempt to document and archive vulnerable information, 2) ask what will be missed when things/people/species go and how we can replace them with technology and art, and 3) consider poetic interventions that might buy us some extra time on the planet. Special attention will be given to the coping mechanisms of the Y chromosome and the chemistry of meat.”

I didn’t read this description prior to signing up, though. If I had I would have taken the week off and spent five days banging my head against the scuffed wall of my dorm. Instead, I scanned the week’s course titles, stopping at “Preparation for Obsolescence,” primarily because the mere thought of things and people I love going away scares the piss out of me. Family, friends, books, paper, independent radio, bookstores, ice cream stands, non-GMO foods, elephants, noiseless public spaces, Benefiber, tigers, Bert and Ernie, face-to-face conversations, rhinos, bipartisanship, unexplored areas of Earth… All are in danger of disappearing from our lives forever, fates that just so happen to be entirely beyond my mere-mortal control. Knowing this, I decided a while ago, a couple of years maybe, that whining like a four-year-old whose barely licked ice cream just vacated her cone was perhaps not the best solution. Rather, my defense in the face of such obsolescence should be threefold: whining like a four-year-old, plus conservation and preparation. I can knock all three out right here. Or at least I can describe the process. Not as good, but this is the internet, which is itself the primary enemy of half the things I hold dear. See, that was whining.

Anyway, about the course. If you don’t know Michelle Ellsworth (http://www.tifprabap.org/), or if your only exposure to her/her work was the Week Three panel, YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WOMAN. Better. You need to know her better. She is brilliant, and she is brilliantly f***ed up.

Entering her class that Monday morning, I immediately wondered two things: “How can any human being talk so fast?” and “How soon into this class will  become obsolete?” Five minutes in, I was breathless. Michelle Ellsworth (http://theatredance.colorado.edu/?page_id=671), meanwhile, never slowed down, never sat down, never even blinked. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I’m telling you, as a person with anxiety issues of my own, being in the same breathing (or non-breathing) space with Michelle Ellsworth (http://theburgerfoundation.org/) made me dizzy, slightly nauseous, and quickly, JUBILANT!

Not too quickly, though. First I had to make it through the first day, which was comprised of three solid hours of my not having any idea what the hell she was talking about (see ignorant, above). None. I think I understood two words, “pen” and “computer.” Oh, and I think she said something about writing. In between these Annie-Maier-accessible words, however, were scores of others not so user-friendly. I’d tell you what they were except I didn’t recognize any of them and so couldn’t WRITE them down, not even with my PEN.

Oh, but wait, there is something I can share. Something I’m sure I only wrote in order to at least appear sentient.

This is a direct quote, from my notebook:

Borneo = Malaria—Mosquitoes = DDT = Poisoned grasshoppers—cats—and on—Cats croak, rodents flourish. Added 100,000s of cats.

Beneath that, I drew a picture of what looks like, I kid you not, an ice cream cone (definitely must have been channeling my inner 4-yr-old), and beneath that a stick figure cat. And beneath that, a quote from Michelle Ellsworth (http://centerwest.org/michelle-ellsworth/), because even though I didn’t know the meaning of said quote, I did recognize the actual words, at least enough to record them somewhat accurately. They were:

“(I) no longer trust language as (a) depository for MEANING (emphasis mine). Meaning (is?) in material (or perhaps immaterial). Things surrounding words.”

No clue. None at all.

Following a 1.5-hour “discussion”—because other people, remarkably, did not seem to be struggling, as I was, to understand this language—we took a break. While everyone else stood around excitedly waving their arms and making mouth sounds, I ran to the café for a double espresso, thinking the caffeine tremors might mask the fear tremors. Then I returned for round two.

Should I give you round two today?

No, I think not. I’m a bit wound up. Maybe I’ll go have another espresso.

 

Tomorrow on wordjunkies:

 

50 million : 2 million                                                                                                            

extinction of unknown species.                                                                                                      

Shape of books.

 

 

2012 Summer Writing Program Goodness: Week 2 August 4, 2012

Image

 

Inspiration

noun

  • the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
  • the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
  • the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs

Week 2:  Cultural Rhizomes and Intentional Communities

Alexs Pate (University of Minn)

Author information: http://alexsdpate.com/

Interview: http://www.pbs.org/ktca/litandlife/resources/pate.html

A confession: I have been known to choose courses based on stock photos of instructors.

For a typical week at SWP, I read through the offerings, culling course possibilities according to description. Anything “Performative” is out. Anything promising excursions “outdoors” is in. I’m like a three year old that way. Often, this step alone is enough to fill the month’s schedule. In the event, though, that I really can’t chose between class A and class G, I turn to the instructor bio. How this works has evolved over the years, as I went from terrified middle-aged woman reentering the academic scene on the wrong side of the podium, to giddy middle-aged woman impatient for a month-long retreat into the alternate reality that is Naropa. The first year, I specifically chose Jaime Marquez because he looked kind. That his class title also contained my favorite topic, “death,” nudged me in his direction, but the relaxed, curly-headed visage staring out from a 1”x1” photo cinched the deal. As my confidence built, safety became less important, as did knowing the instructor and his/her work. Challenging my beliefs, expanding notions of creative process, and honing my ability to discuss and debate social, political, and artistic issues became paramount. So, by this year, I was all about stepping out of the box. Any box. (As long as I didn’t have to sing or dance my way out.)

Reading the title of Alexs Pate’s class, “Engaging the Good: Community, Writer, Character,“ I was immediately sucked in. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a classroom for hours discussing goodness? Still, I have to admit to a certain amount of hesitation in pulling the trigger. Not due to Pate’s lengthy list of accolades (see intimidation, noun; the state of being timid; filled with fear; the feeling of discouragement in the face of superior fame or wealth or talent) or his wildly arcing hair and all black clothing, but because I was also really interested in another class being taught by a writer I knew and had worked with once before. I weighed the two in my head. Known or unknown? Stepping out or stepping up? In the end, I chose Pate, in part because his bio photo looked like that of a crazy man. A really nice crazy man.

Imagine my delight, then, in ascertaining, within five minutes of walking into the classroom, that he was a BRILLIANT crazy man. Even by Naropa standards, Pate is an out there genius, waving his arms, jumping around, shouting at us to stretch, to work and write and love the process, tossing the agenda aside to ask us what WE wanted to learn, offering a totally new perspective on… well, for me, everything.

Here are just a few of the ways Pate inspired me.

Explore

  • Aristotle (again!): Whatever moves us, physically and emotionally, to express and achieve our good in the world is good. Presented by Pate in relation to the idea of community. Good is not in opposition to evil. I have pages of notes on this subject, all clumped under one heading: WORKSHOP IDEA. More on that later.
  • “The Black Monk,” by Anton Chekhov. Is it better to be mad and happy, than sane and miserable? Is it better to be mad and know you are mad than to be mad and think you are sane? And, in my view, who is the real madman/woman? Read the entire, wonderful story here: http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1270/
  • Story triangle: You’ve seen versions of this triangle (such as Freytag’s Triangle) since high school. Here’s my interpretation, as dictated by Alexs Pate. Well, maybe not. I can’t get the damn thing to load. Here’s a written explanation instead, using, or horribly mangling, high school geometry and algebra! Point at top=A; Right Side=B; Left Side=C. Bottom=D. Now, replace for: B=Tension (imagine a bunch of squiggly lines crisscrossing this line, representing all hell breaking loose); A=Crisis (moment when the outcome of the story becomes inevitable-nothing else could possibly happen). C=Complicating factors (occurring throughout the story to prolong tension by distracting reader from crisis). And D=All the problems that arise in the course of story. This explanation sort of sucks–the graphic is much better, I promise. Let me know if you’d me to email you a copy.

THINK ABOUT THIS (all quotes from Alexs Pate unless otherwise noted)

  • Following the rules: “If you aren’t going to play the game, you’d better be damn good at your own game.”
  • Life: “Be a professional human being.”
  • Details: “Details are opportunities to provide subliminal information that builds the story (or scene or crisis) to a conclusion, an understanding. Readers don’t even know they’re being set up for the sucker punch.” Must be subtle and organic to be effective. Invisible.
  • Sublimation (in your story): Surrender to beauty; beauty captures the audience. THEN step in with politics.
  • “Writing is a sociably acceptable form of schizophrenia.” EL Doctorow.

Image

ASK THIS

  • As a writer, how can I best express my goodness?
  • How can I create characters who best express their goodness? Ask: What does s/he need to carry out her/his mission?
  • Think of characters as constructions first, then make them people.
  • How can I create stories that lead people to ask questions?

LOOK THIS UP:

  • The Domino Project: (http://www.thedominoproject.com/about) I love all things book, and so had high hopes for Seth Godin’s project, tagged, “A new way to think about publishing.” I can’t say I was disappointed, as it turns out Godin is indeed trying to look well beyond traditional publishing to engaged both readers and writers. And who can fault a project that lists this gem among its core beliefs: “Reward the sneezers who stand up and spread these ideas.” Nice. What’s not to like? The prominently displayed “powered by Amazon.” I’m an indie kind of girl, and I cringe at the mention of Amazon the same way I do Walmart. Both have their place, I know. Still I can’t offer a whole-hearted endorsement for The Domino Project without balancing what I can’t help see as somewhat negative retail juju with good. So, here’s a link to my two favorite indie publishers.
  • Small Press Distribution http://www.spdbooks.org/
  • Ugly Duckling Press: http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/about/udp-story/

Thanks for reading. Hope you found something of interest here. Please feel free to add your own favorite notes of inspiration.

 

2012 Summer Writing Program Goodness: Week 1 July 27, 2012

Filed under: Naropa University,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 1:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

 

 Normative

adj

  • establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or   norm, esp. of behavior
  • conforming to or based on norms
  • prescribing norms

In reference to and in direct opposition of:

Innovative

adj

  • (of a product or idea) featuring new methods; advanced and original
  • (of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking

I could ramble on endlessly about the wonderfulness that is Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. Rather than spend hours trying to distill four insanely packed weeks of literary exploration into any kind of coherent narrative, however, I’ve decided upon a decidedly non-normative approach. Quite fitting, as Naropa is a place where stuffy academic terms such as rhizomatic (adj; of, relating to, or resembling a rhizome) and nonnormative (adj; see above) are tossed around with great sincerity in an environment that was developed upon and now embodies, encourages, and promotes the antithesis of academia, ie, the individual.

Here, then, are several lists, to be presented in weekly installments, chronicling but a few of the many, many thoughts, ideas, sentences, theories and people that propelled me into and through a month of sleepless nights and frantic, word-filled days. If even one of the following stirs you in a similar fashion, I’ll count this blog a success. 

SWP 2012: Week 1: Archival Poetics and The War on Memory 

Prageeta Sharma (http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/2060), an impassioned poet and instructor who inspires not only through her own heartfelt writing, but also through the work of an array of artists and writers who stretch their work well beyond anything remotely resembling normative.

Explore:

  • Peter Greenaway: A Walk Through H (http://www.ubu.com/film/greenaway_walk.html), an amazing film (by an amazing artist/filmmaker) in which the “I” is presented as a fictional entity. Curating his own paintings, Greenway takes viewers through a maze of maps that contain images representing scarlet brick roads, letters, cities (Antilipe, Canterlupis, Hesgarden), windmills, bald eagles, an exiled pianist, blood oranges, and lots and lots of references to birds. What does H represent? Many things it seems, but H is definitely “not Heron”! Grab a cup of tea (or glass of wine, shot of vodka…) and give this one a watch.
  • Anxieties of Existence: Anyone who has read even one post of this blog knows that I am engaged in a more or less continual struggle to understand what roughly seven billion blobs of water and skin are meant to be doing while whirling about on this molten yet watery rock located three planets, a term which is itself remarkably fluid and open to contradiction, from the sun. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to guess the meaning and origins of the term “Anxieties of Existence,” but, intrigued, I nonetheless went in search of additional information. Enter philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). Voegelin didn’t coin the phrase, but did discuss it to some length. (http://www.voegelinview.com/ev/anxietyofexistence.html) As per Prageeta, Anxieties of Existence is also the name of an art installation, but I haven’t been able to locate any information on that. (If you have, please leave a comment!) Dead philosophers and existential artists aside, what I find MOST fascinating is that Anxiety of Existence has become the mantra for a whole host of sites and forums devoted to OCD! No shit! Just think of the artistic possibilities of THAT gold mine!
  • Blind Contour Drawing: Compliments of artist Cynthia Miller (http://www.cemillerart.com/image03.htm). Because this takes such discipline and patience, BCT is a great exercise in stilling the mind. To make your own: Take out a sheet of paper and pencil. Sit at a table. Turn sideways so your dominant hand is next to the paper. Hold up the opposite hand, but in such a way that you can’t see both hands and the paper at once. Now draw your opposite hand WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE PAPER! Do not lift the pencil. Do not peak. This may take a few tries. Once you have a complete drawing, think about how the process can inform your writing.
  • Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: The title of this book immediately intrigued me on a pretty basic level: I am a woman and I love fire and other dangerous things. That it turns out to have been written by a man (George Lakoff) and is about linguistics and the naming of things was, I admit, a bit of a disappointment. Whether it will prove to be an un-surmountable one (as in will I or won’t I read it) remains to be seen. http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780226468044
  • Tibetan Monastery Dance:

             Cham Dance photo courtesy of Core of Culture website

Another term of which I am woefully ignorant, but interested. This ritual dance, which is reported to have originated in India around 760 AD, is performed to familiarize believers with the deities they might encounter after death. Initially only monks performed the dances, called Cham dances, which could last up to 24 hours. Today lay people (and tourists) participate as well. Like many indigent languages, the culture and practice of Cham dances is endangered. http://www.coreofculture.org/cham.html

THINK ABOUT THIS:

  • What would happen if you curated your own work?
  • How can we create poetry that exists on and off the page?
  • What do I (you!) want my (your!) poem(s) to do?
  • Let in bewilderment/ambivalence; not everything needs an explanation.
  • What happens if we look at our poem(s) on the SENTENCE level? (Prageeta Sharma)
  • What if we risked madness and stared at our lives? (Richard Froude)
  • No really, WHAT IF WE RISKED MADNESS AND STARED AT OUR LIVES?

Gratitude

          

  • New friends, especially Ginger Teppner, Katelyn Hope, AJ Reavey, and Franco
  • Old friends, especially Raki, Rachel Melville, Melanie Klug, Kevin Gunnerson, Julie Kazimer, Lisa Birman… Oh, hell, this particular list is endless, but I am grateful for each and every one of the people who comprise and create SWP.
  • The Dushanbe Tea House, makers of sparkling hibiscus tea and the oh-so-tasty cucumber martini!
  • My bicycle, which allowed me to be wild, happy, and fuel-free for five blissful weeks.
  • Chickadees, which sweetly sang me awake every single morning (except for that one Saturday when the ass next door vomited for two hours).

 

To be continued…

 

 
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