wordjunkies

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Hauntings (part 3) June 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 12:29 am
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Previously on wordjunkies:

 

 

I’m a snake

(not a snail)

I shed my skin

like Mithral mail

 

Head and neck

no problem there

throat and shoulders

lick the air

 

Only catch—

as we found out—

is that my arms

can’t come out

 

No arms no hands

no words escape

No words no voice

no me takes shape

 

About those arms:

It was right after commenting on the half-assed state of my molt (noun; a loss of plumage, skin, or hair, esp. as a regular feature of an animal’s life cycle), that Life Coach Jackie mentioned my parents. As in, “How do your parents feel about your writing?”

Two damn good questions.

I don’t know how my parents feel about my writing. I have an idea. I conjecture. But without being able to ask, I’ve no access to the truth. By the time I decided to pursue words as a vocation my dad was dead. My mom… well, my mom offers no opinions.

Except…

Except where the book is concerned. Should that particular gathering of words ever see daylight, the remaining parental unit would not be happy. See:

 

Ballistic

adj

  1. of or relating to a body in motion according to the laws of ballistics (the science of the motion of projectiles in flight)
  2. extremely and usually suddenly excited, upset, or angry; wild

I know to expect such a Newtonian reaction not because I asked, but because Mom confronted me before I ever had the chance to ask. Said confrontation makes a good story in itself, but hang on, let me finish this line of thought first.

Is that why I stalled? Because my parents, one live and one dead, might or might not be happy with my words? Maybe. But not entirely. I stalled for a few reasons, I would think. That is perhaps only the most obvious.

“I have problems speaking,” I told LC Jackie. “Writing is easy, but when it comes to putting myself, my work, out there… Well, that doesn’t seem to be happening either. I write to a notebook, to my computer. I write a blog that’s read by people I don’t even know but not by the people I do know. I feel like two separate entities, Annie Maier who goes about her day doing whatever and… some other person who writes. I need to integrate the two. Or at least introduce them.”

Jackie said something helpful. I can’t remember what—by then I was thinking that I had turned into someone unfamiliar. Not in a larger, life context, but in a word context. Because, one thing I’ve never censored is my words, at least not the ones I could write.

A diversion: Put one or more writers in a room with a recently successful (i.e., published) nonfiction writer and someone invariably asks, “How do you set boundaries when writing real life?” or “How do you keep from hurting someone’s feelings?” or “What right do I have to write about other people?” To which the speaker invariably answers, “Your job is to write your story. Don’t think about ‘other people.’” Amen. I think about what other people think too damn much already. I can’t do it while I’m writing, too. Not and stay sane.

So what a surprise to find that yeah, I’m great at taking this advice while scribbling words to an invisible audience, but introduce real people into the situation and all hell breaks loose. Or rather all hell comes to a screeching halt.

Then LC Jackie said something else helpful, something I remember: “Lot’s of people live two lives where their families are concerned. Do you need your parents’ approval to get the book out there?”

Which is exactly when I realized I had told her nothing about the actual contents of the book.

“I don’t need their approval. I need…” Damn, what do I need?

Amid this struggle, Jackie asked, “Why do you think you stopped working on the book?”

Dammit all to hell. I thought having a life coach made things easier. “Well…” I stopped. Why? I’ve no idea. But I bet it has something to do with that skin trapped at my arms. “So, the book… The book is about… I wrote the book.” I was trying. Valiantly. “The book is about my dad.” Jackie made a sound, but held back any articulation. “The title is Please Kill Me and Other Life Lessons. I wrote it right after he died.”

I heard another sound, but forged ahead. Stopping then would’ve meant another 10 minutes of stammering, “He had a stroke. It was a miserable death. It took three years.”

“Wow,” Jackie said.

Yeah. Wow.

Or, whatever.

It depends on what day you ask me. And whether “you” is someone in my head, or someone outside my head.  It’s a heavy subject for sure. He was my dad. He died. It was miserable. But lots of peoples’ dads die. It’s often miserable. And lots of people write about it. I hear that some of them even publish what they’ve written.

To be continued? I don’t know. This whole exorcism thing is harder than I expected. Twisting necks and lava-vomit aside, the devil is no match for the demons we carry in our heads. Jackie is amazing and EFT is effective, but trying to relate the details of how and why is exhausting. I’m tempted to leave it up to you, the invisible audience. Do you want to hear more? But that seems cowardly. Aren’t I supposed to determine the direction of this blog? Or am I being sneaky, too sneaky even for myself? Changing the subject when things get tough.

Let’s talk about you.

How are your ghosts?

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Day 0 of Naropa University’s 2011 SWP June 11, 2011

Filed under: Naropa University,State of Mind — Annie Maier @ 7:48 pm
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Arrived in Boulder on Tuesday, eager, excited, nervous. My husband and daughter accompanied me on this initial leg of the journey, and we spent the early part of the week eating, hiking, walking, visiting Naropa, occasionally sleeping. In preparation for their departure, we went hiking at Chautauque yesterday so I could put my feet in the water and clear my head. Then we went off for tea at the Dashanbe Tea House (lovely). This morning, we got up, showered, dressed and headed out the door. Now they’re driving to Denver to catch a flight home and I’m here in Boulder wondering why I do this to myself, while at the same time heaving an enormous sigh of relief. Makes no sense, I know… or maybe it does. Maybe someone out there reading this is thinking, “yup, I can see that.” If not, I’ll try to explain.

Being the progressive, college town that it is, Boulder thrives on diversity. There are retirees walking the street in chains and leather, tattooed mamas pushing strollers filled with adorable, barefoot babies and street corners populated by buskers, hustlers and sad little old men in rags. At Naropa, a wonderful school founded on the principles of Buddhist contemplation, Western-education and near universal acceptance, there are students from all paths in life (see previous post). Some are male, some are female, some are gender neutral. Straight, gay, monogamous, single, polyamorous. Writers, dancers, artists, theater and religion majors.

None of this is bad. In fact, except for the proliferation of homelessness, it is all quite wonderful. Except that I’m a bit dull. Nerdy, even. Fond of words and coffee and small, still corners. Despite being independent, stubborn and perhaps a bit too fond of incense, I’m not an obvious rebel. I wear skirts and jeans with white t-shirts. I take my mom to lunch every Wednesday, floss most days and occasionally pay other people to paint my nails. I practice yoga in sweat pants. My hair is mousy brown and correspondingly lifeless and I haven’t a single tattoo. Though I am now largely atheistic, I was raised Catholic; cursed from birth by a strong history of guilt and conformity. And now, I’ve flown 1500 miles to once again plop myself down in the far out land of way cool hipsterdom. Even the anti-hipsters are hip. To the outside eye, the single thing in short supply in Boulder is that bastion of perceived deadly dullness—the traditional family. Did I mention I arrived here with my family? My husband of nearly 30 years and our basically well-adjusted daughter? Yeah. Nowwwww you understand.

I know that there are people out there who will read this in outrage: “What the hell is she complaining about—love, stability, happiness?—who doesn’t long for all three?” And I absolutely agree (b/c I am so grateful for all three), Hence the conflict.

But try to see it another way. In four days, this is what I’ve encountered: a waiter, unable to process the information that I was attending Naropa (he had asked what brought us Boulder), asked my daughter what she was studying. Arriving on campus for a meeting with an unknown classmate, I was confronted by an image of youth and beauty; tall, thick hair pulled carelessly back in a golden weave of tumbling curls, no time or need for make-up. Signing in at Snow Lion, Naropa’s dorm and my domicile for the month, I met a lovely woman—not too tall, pretty but not intimidatingly so, my age. Woohooo, I thought! Two seconds into the conversation, she informed me she was there dropping off her son. Sonsofbitches.

There are MFA programs all over America staying in business on the dimes of middle-aged women seeking a new course in life and I chose the only one slowly sinking beneath the burden of educating free-spirited young men and women arriving straight from college on scholarships. Even here, I am an anomaly.

But what the hell—isn’t that why I chose Naropa in the first place? We are all anomalies.

And I cannot wait for the month to begin.

 

The Complexities of Being a Shirley pt 2 March 14, 2010

Filed under: Life — Annie Maier @ 2:01 am
Tags: , , ,

March 13, 2010

Okay, it’s not the next day. Still, I have more to say on the subject.

Anyway, when I told Mom Uncle Richard was in town, she reacted with simultaneous joy and anger. How wonderful! Why hadn’t he called her himself?

I decided to ignore the anger for the time being, figuring it wouldn’t help at that point to remind her the state of her relationships with her siblings. Instead, I focused on the joy. We (I) called Uncle Richard and told him yes, his sister would love to see him – and then I handed her the phone.

To say I will never understand my mom is probably an understatement, but after five years, she greeted her brother as if they’d talked yesterday. They laughed, they joked, they bonded – while I sat contemplating the fact that despite my love for everyone involved, I was an outsider. The go between. When they finished a few minutes later, she hung up.

“So,” I asked, “are you going to see him?”

“Sure.”

“When?”

“I don’t know, he’s going to call later.”

Now, call me crazy, but if it had been my brother, I’d have been at his hotel 10 minutes after hanging up. But then, I’ve never gone five weeks without talking to Eric, much less 5 years.

“Do you want to go now?” I prodded.

“No. He’s here for a week.”

Alrighty then.

Two days later, Uncle Richard called me again.

“So kid, where the hell is you mother?”

“I don’t know. At home? Why?”

“I’ve been trying to call her for two days, and she hasn’t answered her phone.”

See, that’s another thing about my mom, she doesn’t answer her phone. I promised Uncle Richard I would track her down and hung up. The great thing about Mama is that she only doesn’t answer when she knows the person calling. Strangers she’ll talk to anytime. So when I can’t get in touch with her on my cell phone, I cheat, calling her from my home phone – a number she never uses and so doesn’t recognize. It works every time.

A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with my uncle, determined to get him and my mom together before the week was up. It took a few more calls and 12 hours for everyone to think things over (What things, I wondered. Why couldn’t this be simple?), but the next morning, I picked up mom and we headed over to meet Uncle Richard.

We planned to have lunch at Showmars, not fine dining, but friendly and within walking distance of UR’s hotel. Mom and I pulled in as he was walking down the street. He’s had two heart surgeries since I’ve seen him, and I couldn’t help but notice how tired and drawn he looked. Mom, who hasn’t seen him in years, was equally surprised, but true to her nature couldn’t admit why. Instead, she covered her real concern and absence in his life with a triviality.

“Oh!” she said. “He’s bald! I don’t like that.”

“He’s not bald, Mama.”

“He looks bald.”

“Nope.”

“He looks older.”

“Five years and two heart surgeries will do that to you.”

“Two heart surgeries?”

I ignored this plea of ignorance, hopping out of the car. After hellos and hugs had been traded, we headed in for lunch. Looking around at the spare restaurant – the billboard, counter and waiting cashiers – Uncle Richard said “What the hell kind of joint is this?”

He had chosen it, on the advice of his wife, my Aunt Judy, so I didn’t want to say anything disparaging. “Um, well, it’s nice enough.”

“Really? I try not to eat in places where you line up like cattle to order.”

“Oh. Would you like to go somewhere else?”

“No, no. You said your mama likes it, that’s good enough for me.”

So, up to the counter we went. Mom ordered her usual fish, I ordered a vegetable pita and Uncle Richard – he ordered a Jack Daniels. And this is when I remembered just how eccentric the Shirleys can be. How loud, and wild, and unruly. When the girl told him they didn’t have alcohol, Uncle Dick said, “No problem, I’m not suppose to drink anyway.” I exhaled. Then he looked at her partner, a young man of about 20, and said. “What about you? She says I can’t buy a drink, but you must have a joint you want to sell.” 

In a second, I flashed back, remembering my cousin’s high school graduation. The party was at a nice hotel and everyone was on their best behavior. Until that is, my grandmother, Nanny Shirley, tried to sell my cousin’s friends drugs from her coat pocket. “Want to buy some coke,” she kept asking. To this day, I have no idea whether she really had any, but with Nanny, nothing was impossible. As I had then, I simply smiled – and tried to act like everyone went to Showmars to buy pot. Fortunately, the kid behind the counter took it well, saying only “Huh, I wish.” We got our food and sat down.

When I was little, Uncle Richard was the only one of Mom’s siblings who would drop by unannounced. He’d bring his guitar and he and Mom would sit at the kitchen table talking and singing for hours. One of my fondest memories is falling asleep to the sound of their murmured voices and music. It was great to have him in Charlotte, to see him and Mom laughing and happy. As happens, their talk turned to the past. All three of my uncles served in the military –  Uncle Richard and Uncle Wesley in the Army, the youngest (my uncle Baba, or Rodney) in the Navy. For hours that afternoon, Uncle Dick talked about the years they spent in the service, including time in Vietnam.

I won’t go into the details, but I will say, this is what I love about lazy lunches with family. Back when I was a kid, no one much talked about the war or my uncles’ time in the service. The sum of what I knew was that Uncle Wesley and Uncle Richard got out as soon as they could, while Uncle Baba made it his carrier, spending 25+ years on various submarines, travelling all over the world, and getting married in Korea. As I sat listening to Uncle Richard’s anecdotes, each one sprinkled with hilarity, profanity and wisdom, I saw a side of him I had never seen before. His love for life and for his brothers was palpable.

As he ran down a list of the countries he had been to, I asked him if he was glad he had joined the service.

“You know, I am. I was just a dumb shit from Capital Heights. I’d never been outside a paper bag before then.”

And so it went. I knew I had hours of work ahead of me, but I couldn’t bring myself to end the afternoon. Instead, I sat quietly in that orange vinyl booth, absorbing the rhythm and solace of my childhood, happy to have even a small faction of my family together again.

 

 
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