November 5, 2009
I received a phone call from Naropa University yesterday. They’ve accepted me into their MFA program: I have until tomorrow to decide which school I will attend – Naropa or Queens. And while this is an excellent dilemma to have, it is a dilemma nonetheless.
I am not a decisive person. I’m a ponderer and a worrier. I once spent half an hour in the grocery store trying to decide which cookies to buy for my Girl Scout troop. Some liked chocolate, some liked vanilla and, at 10 years old, none liked compromise. Walking up and down the aisle, I contemplated possible fallout. What if I get chocolate and everyone accused me of favoritism (my daughter liked chocolate after all)? What if I got vanilla and the chocolate eaters hated them? Okay, I decided, I’ll buy both. But wait. Should I get soft or crunchy? Creamy middle or empty middle? Nabisco or Keebler? What about oatmeal cookies? Should I skip chocolate and vanilla and buy oatmeal? Wrapped as I was in a cocoon of self-doubt, I lost track of time. When an employee, concerned perhaps about the woman stalking about muttering in the cookie aisle, asked me if I was okay, I was perplexed. “I am,” I answered, wondering what had prompted the question. She laughed, saying, “Oh, good. You’ve been standing there so long I’d started to worry.” That’s when I checked my watch.
Before you think maybe I’m just crazy that way, let me explain. Cookies weren’t alone in my head that day. They were up there crawling around with all sorts of other sticky issues, like – how in the hell had I, the not very patient, craft-challenged mother of an only child, wound up leading a Girl Scout troop? In Scottsdale, Arizona, two thousand miles away from my home and my job and my friends. Living with a man to whom I’d been separated for five years. You see, I’m crazy that way! In my head, no issue is as simple as it at first seems, because I can’t keep the rest of me from getting involved. No sooner does my head speak up, “Buy the damn cookies and let’s go!” than my heart steps in, “But what if someone doesn’t like them?” Or more to the point, “What if all of the girls ostracize my child because I’m a lame, rotten-cookie-picking troop leader?” “Fine,” says Head! “Try to please everyone. Where does that get you? Late, that’s where. Late and suspicious.”
My heart is strong, but my head is louder.
I know in my heart what I want to do. I want to go to Naropa and meditate and write and practice yoga and watch performance art. I want to hike in the Rockies on my mornings off. Kayak on the weekends. Study Buddhism. I want to hang out with the hippies and recite Beat poetry. When I got the call from Queens two weeks ago, I was happy. Excited. When Naropa called – I wept. And yet, my head will not be still. I know next to nothing about Naropa. Nothing, at least that I haven’t read in books and on the web-site. I have friends who have gone to Queens. I’ve been there myself on several occasions. Walked the bricked pathways, admired the older buildings, enjoyed concerts in the Theater. Queens is cheaper. Queens is closer. Queens has instructors I’ve read and met, and an excellent alumni support system. All good points, supported by common sense and practicality.
But what attracted me to Naropa in the first place was a passage in Ram Dass’ book, “Be Here Now,” a fascinating treatise on a more enlightened, intuitive existence. Follow your heart, Dass instructs. Stretch your body and your mind. The only question is – can I listen?