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)?

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.


Reality -vs- Fantasy (=wall) April 29, 2012

Part 2; April 29, 2012

Previously on wordjunkies: Stubbornly rooted in the fantasy of an anxiety-free, socially well-adjusted existence, Annie Maier prepared for an appointment with a client. Dressed and ready to go, she climbs into her car only to see:

There in my lap, south of my naval, northeast of my thigh… a bright swirl of white and red. But wait! What was this curlicue of color doing in a place that should, according to all calculations, contain only black? As my perfect world doesn’t include someone to remind me to zip my fly, and so I often don’t, I hastily patted my nether regions, all the while assuring myself there was NO PROBLEM. A quick tug and I’d be all set. Except there wasn’t anything to tug. Jumping from the car, I bent double to get a better view… of my underwear.



  • rip, tear, split, hole,slash, slit.
  • gorge, chasm,fault, rift, fissure, crevasse

Damn damn and damn. I sprinted back into the house and up the stairs to my closet. Like many women, I have several pairs of black pants. Unfortunately one was on my body with a gaping hole where there should be none, one was downstairs waiting to be ironed, and one was dirty. That left only one other pair, bought at Macy’s 15 years ago. I remember because I lived in Arizona at the time and I’ve forgotten nothing about that period in my life. (Unlike the years spent in Connecticut, details of which I’ve spent a fortune on drugs and therapy trying to forget.)

Balancing on the side of the tub to get a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized that age wasn’t the only problem facing my geriatric drawers. They were also gray, not black, and of an indeterminate material reminiscent of polyester. Vowing to start a new Goodwill bag, I ripped them from my body, praying for a miracle as I ran back to the closet. But no miracle awaited. Spinning about in a swirl of indecision—different pants meant a different shirt. what shirt? maybe the white one? what about a skirt? too cold. brown pants? okay but what shoes? sandals? no boots. then what about socks, are the good ones clean? undies? they’d have to go, can’t wear red with brown. earrings, oh no I’d have to change the black earrings and then the bracelet, that would have to go too. could I wear black jeans? I’ll call bill, he’ll know. didn’t the website say “business attire” only? Sydnor wouldn’t care, but everyone else might. what if they refuse to seat me? they might—my bubble finally, irrevocably burst. Ten days of anxiety and 40 odd years of dueling states of existence crashed around me in an audible burst. It was 11:55. I had exactly 35 minutes to get dressed and get uptown. Pulling the tacky gray pants back on, cursing the entire time, I ran back out to the car, this time grabbing only a towel to wipe my sweating forehead. It might be 60 outside, but inside my head it was about 107.

Needless to say, I was late. Made later by getting lost not once but three times. And by driving the wrong way in the parking garage, which understandably upset the attendant.

At 12:45, I panted my way up to the lobby, finally found Sydnor, made my apologies, and then set about the business of enjoying lunch.

All of this is to say, I hit a wall. Not suddenly, but in slow motion. I saw it coming toward me, like a barricade at the end of a crumbling, blacktopped street. Getting larger and more solid with each step I took, until there it was at my nose, and I was suddenly bleeding.

(to be continued)



S*** Sandwiches, (Non)fiction, and Truth April 13, 2012

Filed under: Philosophy,Writing/Words — Annie Maier @ 3:27 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

April 13, 2012

The last three posts sort of took it out of me. Or maybe it was the (blissfully few) shit sandwich responses I received. For those of you unfamiliar with this term (surely there are others besides me!) I will explain it to you by paraphrasing my dear friend Raki: A s*** sandwich is when someone gives you negative news (or in my case, negative feedback) bookended by something positive. Though Raki didn’t explicitly say so, I would also add that there are some seriously passive aggressive vibes associated with such a sandwich. I mean, really, if someone says, “Wow, that sweater is great. Didn’t they have your size? Well, have fun on your date!” what they really mean is, A) you look like hell and should go home, immediately, and change, or B) you shouldn’t be surprised if your date stands you up. I don’t know about you, reader/writers, but I’m an honesty kind of person. Just give it to me straight, sans bread and sans… well, you know.

Anyway, that was way more than I meant to say about that. Must be talking with Raki that set me off! I laugh every time I think about her explaining this simple cultural concept. (For anyone who needs more, there are an amazing array of results when you do a web search. Here are my two favorites: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Shit%20Sandwich and http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/shit_sandwich)

Anyway, while I am undaunted in being perfectly honest, and in speaking my mind as far as common decency allows, I’m going to take a break this week and give not a word essay, but a word poem. Or maybe a word story. Let’s see what my infected brain spits out.

Oh wait, hey, before I begin, I just thought of something in connection to the word of the day (which is, though I haven’t told you, “truth”). This sort of relates to what I say above, in a convoluted, literary way. There’s a lot of discussion about “truth” in relation to creative nonfiction (as opposed to basic nonfiction, otherwise known as journalism, which is even more black and white than the paper it used to be printed on). One side thinks truth is set in stone and the other side thinks truth, in this context, is necessarily flexible. (Here’s a great blog/article from Brevity: http://brevity.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/the-derrata-controversy-why-truth-matters/ ) Perhaps not surprisingly, I fall in the stone camp: truth is, for me, way too fluid to be messed with. Which means truth, even in the realm of my own writing must always be qualified. As in, “I think this is how it all came down, but really, what do I know?”

Taking this train to its logical conclusion, I also believe that fiction is an excellent genre for exploring, perhaps even exploiting, truth. Hence:



  • the quality or state of being true
  • (also the truth) that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality
  • a fact or belief that is accepted as true

as in:

Vomiting Half Naked on a Plane

This story is true.

Three women sit on the lawn. It is lunchtime, but only one is eating.

Woman #1 is young, dressed in a white tee shirt and black jeans. Her hair is curly and wild and she doesn’t wear any makeup. Her eyes are small and the lids wrinkle shut when she laughs in a way that makes her look adorable rather than decrepit. As she speaks, she picks at a sandwich, alternately eating a piece and tossing a piece off into the grass. Curious squirrels stare at her from a distance.

Woman #2 has her back to me. All I see are stubs of short hair beneath a black and white bandana. She has a tattoo on her left arm, running from the crook of her elbow up and around her shoulder. I can’t make out what the tattoo depicts, but it seems intricate—perhaps a swirling green dragon.

Woman #3 has straight black hair bleached on the ends, pulled off to the side as if that half of her body belongs to a gypsy. The half that is exposed reveals a very small ear, the lobe of which boasts two pieces of spiraling black plastic joined in the middle. The earing is ugly and somehow threatening and I can’t stop looking at it. She wears a black shirt over black capris, with brown sandals on sunburnt feet.

I should say I know all three. I should say I transcribe the following conversation as it flows from their mouths, just as I will go back later, collect all the bits of discarded bread and toss them to my own, less timid, squirrels. That is, verbatim. I should say we are strangers and they are unaware of my presence. I should say I am in hiding, though they can see me sitting before them on the damp grass. I should say I am concerned about grass stains.

Woman #1: …so there I was, sitting between them with my pants ripped away, vomiting.

Woman #2: What happened to your pants?

#1: They ripped away, I told you, like tear-away pants, they just ripped away. I was sitting there vomiting (she imitates someone vomiting into a bag).

#2: Did the people next to you say anything?

#1: What could they say? They had a half naked woman puking right beside them without pants.

Woman #3: Okay, I so you were on a plane, vomiting, but what happened to your pants?

#1 starts from the beginning: I was rushing, late, hung over. They’d had to hold the plane for me and everyone was pissed off, grumbling and shooting me evil frowns. I bent to shove my bag, a duffle bag from the army store with all kinds of hooks and things, under the seat and one of the hooks caught on my pants, they were cheap-ass pants from Old Navy, you know how their clothes are, like crepe paper, all thin and cheap. Plus I had worn them every day for a month but didn’t wash them much because I was 23 and gross with dreads and shit. When they caught on the hook, they ripped away.

#3: What did they do?

#1: Who?

#3: The people around you.

#1: Nothing, they were trying not to look at me. I mean I was standing there without pants. Thank god I had on underwear.

#2: I was gonna ask that.

#1: Yeah, I did.

#2: So you vomited because your pants came off?

#1: RIPPED off. No I vomited later. I have a really sensitive stomach (her companions nod). I puke all the time, in stores, cars. I threw up at a movie last month. I ran out into the lobby and vomited in a trashcan, I was standing there heaving and some guy who worked there felt bad for me. He kept saying are you okay, are you okay. I said yeah, that movie is just really disgusting. He gave me free tickets.

#2: You threw up because of a movie?

#1: It was GROSS!

#3: And they gave you free tickets?

#1: Yeah, which was nice, but useless, I lost them. I lose everything.

Her companions nod. The squirrels move closer.


Expectation, Unreasonable or Otherwise April 2, 2012

Part 2; April 2, 2012

Previously on wordjunkies: Annie Maier was distressed at having been dissed. Enraged, she paused… Thought about her reaction (gone and done, no time to change. Desire? Not really.) Wondered if she had perhaps erred in her previous assumption that one would, if done with another, speak up. Such thinking had, after all, led her “straight toward expectation and into the arms of…”



  • the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.
  • a person, event, or thing that causes such a feeling.




  • a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility

A very strong feeling. Upon learning of this deception (noun; the act of deceiving), I freaked out. Hearing my screech and observing the force with which I hit “respond,” my husband very gently placed a hand upon quaking shoulder and suggested I hold off till morning when I might better be able to “control” my emotion. But at that moment, I had little interest in control. I wanted to stand on the roof and shout this person’s name for all to hear. I wanted to whip out my credit card and order a two-page ad in the Charlotte Observer. I wanted to D E L E T E D I wanted to… cry.

Ever since taking “Mind Moving” with Erik Anderson, possibilities for using writing not only as an access into our own inner workings but as a method of contemplation and release have been swirling in my brain. When the opportunity to make this dream a reality arouse, I leapt at the chance. I plotted, wrote, and marketed the class. My cohort was not idle in this time. S/he worked as well. Not as hard, not as passionately, but still.

The day came. I sweated and worried: Was the idea as good as I thought it was? Would people be inspired? Had I chosen the right examples, written the best exercises. left enough time for all I wanted to accomplish? Would everyone show up? Would they be glad they had? Would I?

The time came. Everyone filtered in. With the exception of one slight glitch,  D E L E T ED – – D E L E T E D – – D E L E T E D     The day was a success. We planned another workshop, six weeks out.

So what went wrong? And more importantly, did I have the right to become so angry? To feel betrayed? If it was simply a matter of I’m sorry, I don’t want to work with you, well, fine. But say so. If it was something more, okay, still fine. But say so. In the ensuing silence, I assumed all was well. Assumed six weeks meant six weeks. I waited.

Now, that may have been a mistake. Should I have initiated the conversation sooner? Maybe. Would that have changed the outcome? I think not.

Anyway, Saturday night. I pounded out a response. Expressed my dismay. Told the person I was horrified. Hurt. Said his/her behavior was reprehensible, unkind and presumptive (that felt good!). Said I wasn’t surprised, as I’ve witnessed such behavior in the past—that felt even better.

Maybe that was a mistake. Not the saying so, but the witnessing. The expecting I wouldn’t be treated that same way. I ended the email with the assertion that I would not be returning to his/her studio for any reason. That felt best of all! Because I’ve been supporting this person’s business for FIVE years. Not only by attending his/her classes but by referring potential clients. We’ve made drums together, chanted beneath the moon together, shared wine. In the past year, D E L E T E D. The  D E L E T E D.      D E L E T E D.  D E L E T E D continued to go out of respect for the person and our history. D E L E T E D. But no. Fed up, I burned that bridge straight to the ground and left it smoldering.

Which leads me to…

(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
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  • 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.








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