from one junkie to another!

2012 SWP Goodness: Week Three August 17, 2012

Filed under: Naropa University,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 12:49 pm
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 Michelle Ellsworth: Brilliance in…






  • 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)


  • 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


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




  • the process or condition of going out of date or being no longer in use
  • falling into disuse or becoming out of date



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


Week Three: Science, Sanity, & Evolution

Michelle Ellsworth: Preparations for Obsolescence


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.



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