from one junkie to another!

Controversy Never Left Naropa University… But Why? June 3, 2011

Heading off to Boulder in a week for my second Summer Writing Program at Naropa. The school has been through numerous changes since I applied and was accepted in December 2009. The new president, Stuart Lord, is a poor fit for the mission, history and current population of Naropa. I won’t go into why, lest I be charged with disrespect and/or slander. Let it be enough to say his religious ideology and lack of personal warmth and integrity seem to be hampering his ability to lead what is admittedly a somewhat unruly student body. Wait, what was that? Unruly student body? Wow. Do those exist? Anywhere outside of Naropa I mean? One would think not.

Naropa students have long paid the price for the exploits of their illustrious forebears. Sex, drugs and alcohol reigned supreme, right up there with Buddhist spirituality. Founder Chogyam Trungpa, along with being an enlightened educator, was a hard drinking, womanizing cad. Early professors, led by the inimitable Allen Ginsberg, were brilliant artists with enormous heart and a wide-open sense of justice. Ginsberg would appear to class—sometimes high, it’s true, but also ready to impart his considerable knowledge to students eager to learn any lesson he cared to share. They were young, disillusioned, passionate—hungry to find and forge a more peaceful, tolerant path than that of their parents, their government, and, often, their peers.

Things aren’t so different today. Students come from all sectors of society seeking a better society. They’re idealistic, creative, largely uninterested in the status quo. They drink, they do drugs, they chant and meditate. They sing, dance, write, create art, perform plays. They are bright, idealistic, interested in the earth and her inhabitants. Some like patchouli, some don’t. Some wash their clothes (and body) with a bit less frequency than their parents and professors might prefer. Some are squeaky clean in mind and body. Some like men, some like women, few people ask or care which. Oh, and yeah, they pretty much all have sex as frequently as possible, often after all-night parties. For this, they are vilified by members of the community—Boulder, Colorado, the US. As I write, powers that be are deciding the fate of Naropa. Its location, its ideology, its existence and relevance in 2011 and beyond. Check out a few of the links I’ve posted below: too many see Naropa not as the asset it is, but as a blight on the community. Forget that most of their fears are based on ancient history, innuendo and false information—they want the school, with its amazing and much needed diversity, to go away.

But to return to my initial statement—how many schools exist in this country that aren’t populated by the same exact demographics I’ve listed above? Unruly, one and all. And that’s a marvelous, spectacular, inspiring thing. Because what each of these students share is a desire to find their place in the world. And where better to do that in environments they’ve chosen specifically because they suit their desires and ideologies. Their goals and aspirations. Are all Naropa students hippie wannabes who do drugs and forget to bathe? No. Would it matter to me if they were? No. Should it matter to you? No. Perception is not reality. We seem to forget that daily, and so we also forget to get outside our comfort zone, check out the places and people that scare us. We forget to question the media and hearsay. Most importantly, we forget the absolute need of all environments to have inhabitants that co-exist despite their differences.

What concerns me, however, isn’t the Boulder community’s occasional lack of curiosity and tolerance. Nor is it the supposed assumption by academia that Naropa is a hotbed of subversion and rebellion with little intellectual or artistic merit. What concerns me most is that Naropa’s largest threats come from within.







Naropa November 8, 2009

Filed under: MFA — Annie Maier @ 9:39 am
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November 7, 2009

It seems that everyone I know expected Naropa would be my final decsion all along. And of course, I did as well – or at least I knew that’s what I wanted. But wants are a funny thing – sometimes you get exactly what you’ve hoped for and it turns out to be the worst thing for you. (But that’s another blog entirely!) Not that I think that will be the case here. I was after all in the very fortunate position of having two great choices. Either would have benefited me in myriad ways as yet uncounted. Now, on to the fun stuff. Waiting for my official letter of acceptance and invitation to write that first check. It’s a good thing it isn’t all due at once – my child is too old to sell and who wants a house in this economy!! Anyway, I can’t wait for that letter and to get started on the first semester. All that knowledge vying for space in my head – I hope I can keep it there.


Heart, Mind Connection November 6, 2009

Filed under: MFA — Annie Maier @ 10:34 am
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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?


Balance October 28, 2009

Filed under: MFA,Philosophy — Annie Maier @ 11:03 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Lying sleepless in the middle of the night last week – I realized I had deleted an important part of my previous rant. In complaining about the fears that had suddenly overtaken me upon applying for MFA programs, I cut the following sentences: “Many people have been most supportive. I’ll blog about them next time, knowing full well I have already violated all rules of etiquette by whining first and being appreciative second.” I fully intended to paste that bit of wisdom back in (see the asterisk in the middle of the second paragraph?), but somehow did not. Just goes to show, being grateful was not on my agenda.

But today is, as they say, another day. In fact, the very next evening marked another day. That was when I received a call from Mr. Fred Lebron at Queens University, informing me I had been accepted for their MFA program. What a difference a few hours can make. The man had barely opened his mouth and I flipped from distraught to euphoric – trying valiantly to maintain some sort of outward composure while doing the living room shimmy.

After I hung up from Mr. Lebron, I emailed, Facebooked and texted everyone I could think of who would be even remotely interested. Which reminded me of how grateful I was. Not just for making it into grad school, but for my daughter – who has always been my most supportive (and brutally honest) fan. For my writing buddies in the Tuesday night critique group, who immediately met my fears with encouragement. For friends and family who offered support and encouragement. And for the opportunity to act upon a dream I’ve had since childhood.

I am indeed fortunate. And grateful.



To MFA (though not without a healthy dose of angst) October 23, 2009

Filed under: MFA — Annie Maier @ 2:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

October 23, 2009

A month later, it seems my decision is made. Not that there was much doubt as to what I would decide, I just had to slog through the detritus polluting my brain before making that final commitment. But commit I did, mailing off the application to Naropa last week and hand delivering one to Queens. (Goddard is due December 4th, but is complete and will go out sooner) For now I wait. And just in case I get bored while waiting or just in case I thought that perhaps all of this was going too easily – which really it wasn’t because it did take me three years to get here and I did write and rewrite my essays of intent and portfolio pieces about a hundred times each – the demons of doubt have already assailed me. So far in the week that my friends and acquaintances have heard the news, I’ve been asked, without a trace of understanding, “Why?” “How much?” and “What do you think that will accomplish?” I’ve also been pegged as a dilettante, an “obvious” empty nester and a woman with too much time and money. Thankfully, the person delivering this last bit left out the issue of gender. (see Sept. 30 blog)

Even my one serendipitous moment, the one where I said Oh thank God I already started the applications, has diminished. That was two weeks ago, when I received devastating news of a literary sort: a “We received many outstanding manuscripts, but yours was not one of them” letter. I wasn’t initially bothered by this letter, not only had I already started moving forward on my road to better writing, but rejections are, for writers, a way of life. No sense crying and all that. It also didn’t hurt that I was, in the moment I opened the hateful thing, walking out the door to catch a flight to Tucson AZ – perhaps my favorite place on Earth. But I’ve been back home for a week now and with my friends weighing in daily*, and I am awash in vacillation. Not about the MFA program, but about writing. About the sense of spending yet another two years in school, throwing oh let’s not even discuss how much money in the direction of an art that is in the 21st century of life here on Earth vastly underrated, unappreciated, difficult, lonely, occasionally heartbreaking and almost always sans monetary remuneration. Last night, I tortured myself for hours, thinking I should just go back to work, get a job I like – in a bookstore perhaps, or a library. I could volunteer for Hospice, take up macramé, adopt a dog, foster a child, befriend a cobra. When I had exhausted all other possible, preferable scenarios, I fell to simpler thoughts, asking myself over and over – Are you freaking NUTS!

Well, yes. Yes I am. And I have to thank Jerry Landry in part for no longer wanting to act on that insanity in any sort of negative way. Because taking my manuscript out back and setting fire to it had really crossed my mind. As had finding a therapist who specializes in budding van Goghs with scissors in hand, sharpened and aiming for an ear. Instead, here I am, pounding out words with the sun in my face and… Well, I’d be lying if I said I had a song in my heart, because my heart still feels a bit black and lonely, but at least I am writing which never, ever fails to make me happy.


To MFA or Not To MFA September 30, 2009

Filed under: MFA — Annie Maier @ 10:56 pm

September 30, 2009

For 3 years, ever since quitting my day job to edit and write full time, I’ve been contemplating whether I should get an MFA. Some days, I think yes. I love learning. Love reading and writing and explicating. I love sharing the energy and experences of other writers, and hearing/reading their stories. Most of all, I want to be a better writer and I want the opportunities to expand my craft and my horizons. Despite all of that desire, however, I could never pull the trigger. MFA programs are expensive, I told myself. I’m busy. In addition to my own reservations, detractors began to appear everywhere. I won’t rehash their complaints, but most seemed to decry the fact that an over-abundance of middle-aged women with expendable incomes had created a glut of cookie-cutter programs churning out cookie-cutter writers. Just what I’ve always wanted to be.  I went back and forth, back and forth. Requesting information, shredding information; reading up on programs, ruling out programs. I’ll go. I won’t go. Maybe I’ll go. I’ll never go. Do it. Screw it. And on…

Finally, this spring, I made a decision. I would apply. So I said. Outloud even. To lots of people. Some I didn’t even know.

Did I apply? No. Why? Well, MFAs are expensive. And like most Americans – many of whom really are middle-aged white women! – my expendable income is no longer expendable. I hesitated. I was almost lost. But then, an epiphany! 

A couple of months ago, a friend invited me on a rafting trip to Colorado. Even though such a trip has long been my dream, I had to say no. Why isn’t important, but that no was the culmination of a year’s worth of missed opportunities, failed communication and private disappointment. Following a week in Seattle, where everyone around me seemed to be rushing forward and greeting life while I was treading water in a mudhole. I fell into a dark and lonely funk exacerbated by too little sleep and too many games of FreeCell. Then came the epiphany.

I came home one day in September to see that my neighbor, a perfectly lovely woman with whom I’ve actually shared words (spoken), had had her front garden edged with tumbled stone. I’m a level-headed person. I don’t weep too often, rarely cause a scene and never yell. But this day, I threw a fit. I cursed the woman, her stones and my cat. I banged things, I threw things and I shouted at my husband when he asked what was wrong. Then I caught myself hurling vexations at her tree. I love trees. I name them, talk to them, pat them in passing. And there I was, telling this woman’s tree I hoped it would die. Soon. Encased in stone.

You see, I’ve been telling my husband for two years that I wanted to edge our front garden in stone. I knew it would look lovely, and it did. In her yard.  I was pissed. And then I was enlightened. 

I cannot stand still any longer. I will not stand still any longer. An MFA will be expensive, particularly if I get into Naropa – the school of my dreams. It will be tough, challenging, at times even frightening. It will require something all introverts hate – lifting my head and letting down that invisible shield. It may require travel – something I rarely do alone. But, it will be worth it.

The way I see it, I can either continue holding back and possible drown in the muck of my ordinary existance, or I can toss myself forward into the abyss, and see what wonders await me.


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