from one junkie to another!

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 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.



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





  • 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.


  • 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.



  • 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?


  • 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: , , , ,





  • 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:



  • (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.


  • 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


  • 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)



  • 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…


MIssion March 15, 2012


A friend of mine, Caroline Jacobs, posted a link to an early David Bowie video on facebook last week. Although it was about 1:00 in the morning when I saw the post, and although I had already been staring at my computer for close to five hours, I decided to check it out. (You can too, here: David Bowie performs “Fame” on Soul Train). Watching the thin white man sing, I thought the following almost as one sentence: “My god he’s hot. my god he’s young. my god he can sing.” After thanking Caroline for the post, I proceeded, though it was now after 1am and I was entering my 6th hour on the computer, to troll the web for additional links on David Bowie.

Interesting facts learned (mostly at http://www.bowiewonderworld.com/faq.htm): Bowie is really Jones. He has two children. He studied meditation with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Naropa Institute—now my very own Naropa University.  He loves his wife. She loves him. His teeth are much better today than they were in 1971. He’s still hot, though he’s not so young. That’s okay, as I’m not either. One site said he regretted telling Michael Watts he was bisexual, not because he wasn’t, though that isn’t entirely clear, but because it had caused undue confusion for his younger self, which was apparently already confused enough. No matter, he and his confusion have created decades of great music. Not about DB but related: Iman is, of course, still stunning. Who the hell even knows how old she is—nothing as mundane as age matters when you’re a goddess.

I can’t say where this post is going, though I think it has something to do with missions, by way of Major Tom, ground control, and sitting in a tin can. “here am I sitting in my tin can, far above the world, planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do…”


  • an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purpose, typically involving travel.
  • a group of people taking part in such an assignment.

I went on my own mission last week, to the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago. Somehow that seems fitting, as I can never hear, see or think the word “mission” without also hearing, seeing and thinking Jake and Elwood Blues saying “We’re on a mission… from God.” I don’t know if they really pause after mission, but in my mind they do, as if waiting to land a punch line. Because really, what god has time to send two pasty white boys to Chicago on any kind of mission political, spiritual or otherwise? Much less musical. Though you have to give them credit, the white brothers could sing. And Belushi—for a fat boy he sure could move. Though I have to say, looking at 80’s era clips of him, he really wasn’t so big. Not by today’s standards anyway. More than heft, I think it’s the knowledge of the vast quantities of cocaine and alcohol that were rushing into, through, and out of his system each day that makes his agility so astounding.

Anyway, my own mission to the windy city involved not music but words. And friends. Presumably words first, but no. Friends first. “A group of people taking part in such a mission.” Now, unlike “mission” noun, singular, “mission” noun, plural, conjures (in my mind) the somewhat less happy vision of Evangelicals torturing natives in the name of a white Christian god. Pastier even than the Blues Bothers and, though no less amusing (if torture can be amusing), nowhere near as talented, well meaning and/or fed.

In the case of Chicago, however, I was quite keen on being a part of the greater whole.  Setting aside thoughts of teenagers dressed in matching pink, yellow or blue t-shirts lining up in airports to fly to “impoverished,” read brown-skinned, third world countries to trade physical labor and spiritual rhetoric for promises that each newly painted building will be used to worship a decidedly peach-skinned god, I hauled my introverted, Christ-and-crowd-aphobic self one thousand miles west to spend three days in the company of people who see something in me that I barely recognize myself. People who love words every bit as much as I do and who share dreams of one day spinning them into something approaching comprehension.

To those friends—Celina, Raki, Rachel, Ivy, Angela, and Kevin, who took turns making my “mission,” noun, singular a far wilder, louder, and more educational “mission” noun, plural—I say cheers and thank you. In your presence, I stepped that much further into the dream, listening to panel after panel populated by people carving out missions of their own with and for books whose pages hold a black inked brilliance bound by handmade covers, some stained with letterpress ink.

“Commencing countdown, engines on….” 



Screaming Happy in Chicago by Angela Stubbs


Red Planet by Rachel Melville?


Aspiration: February 18, 2012

Filed under: Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 12:41 am
Tags: , , , , ,

  • a hope or ambition of achieving something: the needs and aspirations of the people[mass noun]:the yawning gulf between aspiration and reality
  • Medicine: the action or process of drawing breath.
  • the action of drawing fluid by suction from a vessel or cavity: bathing solutions were changed by careful aspiration


I love that a single word can have very different meanings. I also love trying to make connections between those meanings.


As I sat down to write this post, I knew one thing only: That I wanted to start with a word. I wasn’t sure which word, as I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to say. The word “wine” came to mind, as in “I’ve had a few glasses,” but where’s the inspiration in that? The interest? The idea? Which leads me to ASPIRATION.


For months I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to accomplish vis a vis an MFA. Initially my desire to go back to school was threefold: To learn to be a better writer, to be in communion with other writers, and to not go insane. Words have always been my savior, 2010 was no different. But now it is 2012. What’s next?


I cannot count the number of disdainful glances I’ve received upon saying, “I’m going for my MFA,” or more recently, “I’ve just completed my MFA.” For sure, most people are supportive and congratulatory. But there are also those who have read too many trade magazines–which run articles against MFA programs almost as often as they do for MFA programs. “Mmmm,” is always the first part of the reply. Then, “Don’t you think MFAs are over-rated?” Or, “I thought about getting an MFA, but decided I already know everything I need to know about writing.” Or, “MFA programs turn out cookie cutter writers.” Or, “MFA programs teach people how to read, not write.”


And like a progressive at an NRA meeting, I jump to defend my position. Except, lately, I’ve decided to stop defending. Which leads me to ASPIRATION:


“the action of drawing fluid by suction from a vessel or cavity.” The cavity being my brain, my being, my heart and lungs and liver. The fluid being stasis. The suction being progress. Progress leading to ASPIRATION:


“the action or process of drawing breath.” Made possible only by forward motion, made possible by education, made possible by words (Naropa. Modernism, Surrealism. Time. Space. Stein. Oliver. Ginsberg. Akhmatova. Contemplative. Activism. MFA), leading once again to ASPIRATION:


“a hope or ambition of achieving something.” Leading once again to, ASPIRATION:


as in hope. As in ambition. As in desire. I have all three. Like a drug they creep about in my veins, whispering to me. Inviting me to play in the street, run with scissors, drive under the influence.


So what are they. these aspirations that came about due to an aspiration (medical) which makes aspiration (physical) possible?


1) To get myself published, once and freaking for all.

2) To publish others, via WordJunkies Press.

3) To earn a few dollars—not many, just enough to make filing my taxes less humiliating.

4) To learn letterpress.








Onward! or Life After Graduation January 27, 2012

Filed under: Naropa University,State of Mind — Annie Maier @ 10:44 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A month and a half ago I was fretting over my thesis, wondering not if I’d get it done on time, as it was already completed, but if I could pinch and twist it to perfection in the time I had remaining.  I couldn’t of course; there is no perfection. But I did manage to get it into a condition I, with all my myriad OCD tendencies and accompanying anxieties, could submit without vomiting. Or at least one I could manage not to put my head in the oven over. (I know, suicide is not funny. It’s not a joke and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Having more than once fought the temptation to become one with natural gas, however, I feel I have the right to employ it, at least metaphorically speaking.)

After four months of frenzied research, weeks’ long writing binges followed by even longer editing purges, and countless refusals to go to dinner, take a walk, meet for coffee, or even on occasion to bathe, I took one last breath and clicked send. It was done, two years’ culmination of studies out of my hands and into those of my reader. (A shout here to the inestimable Lisa Birman, writer, instructor and reader extraordinaire! Look her up here: http://lisabirman.org/)

Along with an overwhelming sense of relief and even, briefly, something approaching pride, I was overcome by… inertia. Not physical inertia, it was the holidays after all and my daughter was coming home, and there were cards to make, presents to send, facebook statuses to post and check, but emotional, no SPIRITUAL, inertia. The kind that reaches in, grabs you by the liver and squeezes so tight you immediately resign yourself to not ever being able to think walk breathe straight again. Much less actually find the stamina or excitement or faith to produce another coherent word, written or otherwise. Because, more than anything, what I felt had come to an end was not my graduate school career, but my brief, shining moment of inclusion. That magical time period when I had gone to sleep connected to words and writers, woken up connected to words and writers and thought about words and writers nearly every moment in between. How, I wondered, would I ever be able to recapture the absolute joy that was my two years at Naropa?

With that question, I went about life in December—spending time with my daughter (home from London for a month, Wo-HOO!), reading some of the books I had put on hold since 2010, turning another year older, celebrating my anniversary, travelling to Maryland, Florida and Costa Rica.  Then Lauren left to go back to England, my husband returned to work and I realized, sonsofbitches!, I was on my own. No classes or classmates for inspiration, no deadlines for structure, no reading lists or essays or poems coming to me via the university portal.

Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared. Otherwise, it would have been back to the oven.


Naropa University 2011 SWP: Afterglow. July 27, 2011

Filed under: Naropa University — Annie Maier @ 10:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

One month later. Did I ever mention that the Summer Writing Program is four weeks of intense, INTENSE, sleepless days and nights filled with WORDS? The moment I stepped into PAC for convocation, my fears were assuaged.  Gone the self-doubt and recrimination. Gone the belief that I was too old to be hanging out on a college campus—and gone with them the sick stomach and desire to hide, vomit and/or don a disguise. Looking around the auditorium, I saw crowds of new faces, most 20 years my junior to be sure, but I also saw familiar ones as well. Julieanne, whose in-your-face confidence and good-natured beauty never fail to startle me. Lisa, the leader of SWP and an exceptional writer and teacher. Jenna, with her killer smile and a self-deprecating manner that hides and protects the soul of a true yogini. Peter, a great writer who also happens to be so damned handsome it makes my eyes hurt! Michael, known not because we’d met before, but because the picture of his wheelchair had haunted me all semester. Jasper, whose pink hair, elaborate tattoos and ever-present sewing projects had distracted me into wakefulness the year before. Julie, Luke, Kyle and Joe. The list goes on.

But it wasn’t the faces that calmed me. Or at least, not only that. What immediately crept into my bones and released all the tension from my till-then rigid frame was an over-powering sense of home. That here, in this place of failing a/c (it was 90 degrees!), linoleum floors, and anxious, excited, boundlessly energetic writers and artists, I was free at last to simply be. Without cares for the wrinkles lining my forehead or the doubts that I wasn’t a good enough writer to be among them. I was home.

Those four weeks, each one as amazing and challenging as last years’, taught me more about myself than I’ve managed to learn in 40 odd years. They also taught me what I’ve always known: that words are power. They are beauty and grace and anger and love. They are hope, despair, moonlight, sunlight, orbital birth and planetary annihilation! And I hope always to be able to write them, read them and chase them around the folded spaces of my brain.

To words!



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

Filed under: Naropa University,State of Mind — Annie Maier @ 7:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.


%d bloggers like this: