June 11, 2011; Day 0 of Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program

11 Jun

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.

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August 19, 2010 – Day 122 of the BP Oil Disaster (despite recent claims to the contrary)

19 Aug

News Flash: The US government and BP have decided that the oil disaster is no longer a disaster. The spill was simply that, a spill, something small and irrelevant in the vastness that is the Gulf of Mexico.

BP’s stance is not surprising; they are a business after all with an image to repair and several boardrooms full of CEOs and shareholders expecting million-dollar-plus bonuses each year. As such it has always been in their best interest to pretend America is a nation of drill-happy gas guzzlers who will buy whatever PR is put out there so long as it doesn’t disturb their vision of one big happy ocean gratefully sucking up millions of gallons of spewing oil. But when President Obama announced two weeks ago that 75 percent of the oil in the Gulf had evaporated, dispersed or been captured, I was dumbfounded. I like our 43rd president, as a person and as a leader, but we don’t always see eye to eye on what are to me vitally important issues. Like the environment. And big business. So as my right-wing, environmentally insensitive friends and relatives (people I also respect but disagree with) were leaping up and down and shouting “I told you so,” I was shaking my head. Then I started  asking questions.

For instance, exactly where has all of that oil gone? Let’s consider the above options.

Capture: Of the 205 MILLION gallons of oil released into the Gulf, roughly 36 million gallons were “caught,” leaving about 169 million gallons floating about contaminating the water and killing off wildlife.

Evaporation: Can oil evaporate into a substance (air) that weighs less than it does? I didn’t see how, but then I also received a C- in both chemistry and geology, so I did what any tech-savvy person would when in doubt of an issue—I googled it. According to Popular Mechanics, The Christian Science Monitor, and Alberto Mestas-Nuñez, an environmental scientist at Texas A and M, the answer is yes, oil can evaporate, but it does so very slowly. How slowly? Could 132 days be slow enough for 169 million gallons? No. Particularly if much of that oil is either beneath the surface of the water or mixed in with other chemicals. Which brings me to…

Dispersion: Okay, I’ll buy that a significant amount of the oil has “dispersed.” BP dumped over 1.84 million gallons of chemicals into the Gulf after all. But what does “disperse” really  mean? According to Merriam-Webster online, definitions include: “to cause to break up,” “to cause to spread out widely,” “to cause to evaporate,” and “to distribute more or less evenly throughout a medium.” Nowhere does it say “to eliminate.” Nor does it say “to move a substance around and then pretend it never existed,” which is exactly what the Obama administration and BP are asking us to do. While it may be true that cleanup of the disaster is “almost over,” the enormous environmental effects remain. Look it up. There are hundreds of online links to images, papers and articles detailing the destruction of animal life, beaches and livelihoods in the Gulf. Check one out, and then decide. In the meantime, we should all ask what we can do to reduce America’s dependency on oil.

 http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/08/obama-on-oil-the-long-battle-to-stop-the-leak-and-contain-the-oil-is-finally-close-to-coming-to-an-e.html

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/louisiana-oil-rain-video-analysis

http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/07/30/30greenwire-oil-spill-dispersants-shifting-ecosystem-impac-95608.html

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/college/usf-scientists-find-evidence-that-oil-spill-damaging-critical-marine-life/1115706

 

 

August 3, 2010 – Day 106 of the BP Oil Disaster (It’s not over till there’s no more oil fouling the Gulf)

3 Aug

As usual I’ve waited until I have about 20 things on my mind to sit down and write. I think what I need is a question day. Do you ever have those? Days when there are so many things plaguing you (being in the middle of Jean Giono’s excellent The Horseman on the Roof, about the mid-1800s cholera epidemic, I use the term lightly) that all you can do, or the most effective thing you can do, is ask “why”?  For instance:

 Why does the Charlotte Observer think articles about a well-to-do family giving up processed foods or a bunch of aimless 20 somethings hanging out at a Walmart are front page news? Why bury the deaths of 800 Pakistanis, the continued non-solving of the oil disaster (which while down from a spew to a “leak” is still fouling the Gulf), and the persistent drunk driving of a local teen which recently led to tragedy—in other words real news—in the middle of the damned paper? While journalists (the real ones), editors, newspaper owners, the literati, academia, and my friends and I all bemoan the ever declining state of the news media in this country, the industry increasingly insist on pandering to those of us who consider reading passé and would rather get their news in 20 second sound-bites and 500 word “articles” in People magazine. The vision of “news as entertainment” threatens the structure of our whole country, killing off more brain cells than all the marijuana in Mexico and making it damned difficult to know what the hell is really going on in this country—much less the world. Which leads me to a whole slew of other questions. Like: How’s the war in Afghanistan? Where’s Osama bin Laden? Have we boosted the Taliban enough or should we give them a little more incentive/exposure? And what about the war in Iraq? Are we still planning to withdraw from this ill-fated fiasco? When? How? And what about life locally? Do you have a job? Does your brother? Your husband? Your wife? Is your 80 year old mama schilling China-made junk at Walmart to try to make ends meet? How much arsenic is too much in drinking water? Why do our school’s suck? How is it that children have hours of homework each night and yet still don’t know who Ronald Reagan was? Does anyone care that more and more of them (children) are hanging out at the chiropractor’s because their backpacks weigh more than they do? How’s the environment? Have you checked on the state of the polar ice cap lately? Does it bother you that while we suck down fossil fuels like Kool-aid you can’t see the stars anymore for the plethora of thousand-watt street lights, security lights, parking lot lights, building lights and house lights burning in your city? Why is my mother intent on breaking my heart? (Oh sorry—that question snuck in: see 2wordjunkies if you’re at all curious about my personal problems.) Speaking of anger… what’s up with sb1070? Is it true that 2/3 of Americans support this heinous bill? Who are they? Can you tell me why in a way that isn’t angry or hateful? I promise to listen.    

 It’s not that I’m in a bad mood, today—my mother aside. Nor am I down on America. But I am concerned about the fog of communal complacency seeping (like oil) into our midst. It’s always been the norm for the few to dictate to the many, but the many are making the job too easy. I don’t know the answer. Is it to form another local paper? One that cares about news? Is it to promote the web as a more thorough outlet for journalism? What, then about the people for whom this is difficult? Those without computers or who aren’t computer savvy or don’t have the time or motivation to sift through fifteen sites before getting to one that makes sense (a few: NPR, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Democracy Now)? How can we become better educated?

My friend Jerry is my go to guy for news, historical and contemporary. I need more Jerrys. We need more Jerrys. Are you a Jerry? Where do you get your news? How do you filter it? Who do you share it with? Help me out here. I really want to know. 

Okay, I have about a billion other questions, but I need to read the latest on the oil spew. And Arizona’s Gov. Brewer. And Obama’s appalling numbers. Maybe I’ll even check out one of the zillion articles about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding (is it just me, or does Bill look too skinny?)

Thanks for reading.

The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk/

Particularly British Petroleum, Haliburton, Transocean and/or the fate of the Gulf:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/03/bp-oil-spill-final-test-static-kill

NPR: www.npr.org/

Democracy Now: www.democracynow.org/

The New York Times: www.nytimes.com/

July 15, 2010 – Day 85 of the BP OIL DISASTER!

14 Jul

Reentry 

That’s what my friend Scott calls returning to normal life—as in “I predict a somewhat difficult reentry for you.” It’s a fine term, an apt term, conjuring visions of astronauts hurtling back into Earth’s orbit after days or weeks spent floating about in the alien confines of space. (Tang anyone?)

 I arrived back in SC, by way of Charlotte, late Sunday night. With nowhere to go on Monday, I slept for 13 hours, waking at noon with pounding head and more body aches than if I’d spent the previous month on a cattle drive rather than in a classroom. I was asleep again by 10:00pm. Tuesday was better; still achy but at least I managed to stay awake for most of the day. Now it’s Wednesday. I’ve been home for roughly 60 hours and still feel… out of sync. Out of place. Far from home.

How is that possible? I am home.

Except that I’m not. I have many homes. SC is only one of them—due to present circumstance and global positioning. Maryland is another, being the place of my birth, adolescence and early adulthood. My true home, my spiritual, prenatal, ameba home (as in since before I was only a single cell floating in space), is the West. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado—apparently it doesn’t matter. As long as I can see mountains, smell creosote, hear canyon wrens and live with the minions of the desert, high or low, I am happy. Deliriously, ecstatically, unreasonably, happy.

Each time I travel west and then back east again, I am torn. I love my home, love my husband and daughter and mother and brother. I love my nieces and friends. But I long for a different state of being. Reentry, as Scott puts it, has been harder this time precisely because in Boulder I lived that state of being for one month. Each day at Naropa (specifically on campus but also in the larger community) was spent with a hundred people intent on reading, writing, learning and creating. Of those, about 95% were equally devoted to practicing a life of kindness, tolerance, political and social progressiveness, community involvement and environmental mindfulness.

I’m not in any way condemning the East, nor am I saying the West is perfect. Only that in Boulder (as in Tucson and Sante Fe), I found a way of living that suits who I am today, rather than the woman I was 10 years ago when I first moved to the Carolinas. Aside from the natural beauty of the desert, I loved not needing a car for one whole month. I loved having access to curbside composting! I loved being among people who were as excited about hearing Jack Hirschman and Amiri Baraka and Anne Waldman and reading Frederico Garcia Lorca and Karl Marx and Allen Ginsberg as I was. I loved hiking every weekend. I loved walking through the streets at 10:00 just because I was too wound up to sleep. I loved feeling like life is one big possibility!

The question of course, is how much of this passion is fueled by “place”? Though some things here in SC cannot be changed—I have to content myself with backyard composting, trees instead of mountains and cardinals instead of thrashers, and as walking anywhere from my neighborhood is impossible, I have to be happy knowing my Mini gets good gas mileage—I do have the beginnings of a wonderful writing community in NC (shout out to Jerry, Russ and Toccoa!), and I do have a husband who shares my love of reading and learning.

Still, the biggest issue (for me anyway, who has always been a few beats left of normal and more comfortable with books than people) is way more elusive: Can I recreate the community I found at Naropa? I’ve never been a big proponent of living in the past or future—and so prefer to think the answer is yes. If you’re interested in such a community, let me know!    

 

  

July 6, 2010: Week Four of SWP, Day 78 of the BP Disaster

6 Jul

Day 78, are you still paying attention? If not, but think you should, or if you just want more information, follow this link:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128330651

Naropa SWP

Week four and exhaustion has become a way of life. Between being in class/lectures/readings 10 hours a day, hiking each weekend and the occasional drunken party (drunken as in companions, that is, I’ve tried to limit myself to slight pixelation), my brain feels like something ancient and wizened. I love Boulder, though, love Naropa even more, and I’ve met quite the array of amazing people. (Hi Mel!) I miss SC and my friends and family there, I miss Billy and my bed and boo kitty, but could easily relocate myself to this land of eco-consciousness, open skies and beautiful mountains. (Have I mentioned how much I love the West??) 

For instance, this is a town that respects, supports and honors art – written, spoken, sung, poetry, music, prose. Last night, poet Amiri Baraka  (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=80788read) read at the Laughing Goat coffee house, along with Anne Waldman and Akilah Oliver. (Akilah is my MFA instructor for the month! Lucky me!) The place was packed, not only with Naropa students, but also with locals who know LG puts on a fabulous  reading every Monday night (thanks to Tom, who VOLUNTEERS his time to creating a venue for local poets). Last night was extraordinary, though. As one of the few remaining writers (poetry, prose, plays) active in the New York and Beat movements of the 50s and 60s, hearing Baraka is like witnessing history.  A poetry/music/life lesson in each verse. Though he’s older now, gray-haired and stoop-backed, his wonderful deep voice is just as strong, just as resonant and compelling as ever.  And his poetry remains a call to action. I don’t always agree with his politics, but I can’t argue with his passion for and committment to community.  So, that was last night – 2 1/2 hours of poetry, camaraderie, singing, shouting and drinking (chai in my case). (Why do I feel the need to keep pointing out that I haven’t been over-imbibing?) 

In between all of the above, I’ve been writing (and reading! To applause! What an amazing concept!). In three weeks, I’ve pounded my keyboard to a glossy sheen, trying to pour out, and hopefully preserve, all that I’ve learned. Much of this learning has been in the sphere of academia–I now know, for instance, how to set type on an old-fashioned printing press (THAT was fun!), the names and works of poets from the  first and second generations of the New York School, the meaning of the word liminal, and the  difference between modernism and post modernism. (Actually, I’m still trying to get a grip on that last bit.)

Just as importantly (more importantly?), though, what I’ve learned, or what I am learning, is how I want to be in the world. What kind of person, writer, friend, activist. Being in a place where no one knows your hang-ups is very liberating. I’ve discovered that sometimes it really is as easy as just letting go. Not that my neuroses don’t surface from time to time, but the combination of creative days spent with creative people, long, meditative hikes, and forced anonymity prevent too much soul diving. Or shallow soul diving. In such a setting, the more important kind, the kind that leads not to “navel gazing” but to insight and compassion, is inescapable. This is where things could get boring, where I could stray into the kind of verbal introspection that no one should have to read, so I’ll sum this up in a sentence. My writing, like my life, is too careful. I need to read and study more, not with an eye to trying to peg myself into some pattern of academic expectation, but to gaining the confidence to freely develop my own style(s). And not only in my writing. 

Time for another reading!

  

 

June 22, 2010: Day 63 of the Gulf Disaster

22 Jun

You Say Spill, I Say Spew

One of the things we’ve been talking about at Naropa this week is the importance of being mindful in the way we use language – particularly for writers. In that context, one of my classmates pointed out that “spill” is a word generally associated with milk not OIL!

With a nod to Raki, then, I’d like to propose that anyone out there concerned with the Gulf, concerned with British Petroleum’s failure (shared I’m sure by other oil companies) to be prepared for any type of incident, much less one of this magnitude, concerned with the state of our Earth, concerned with our SHARED dependence on fossil fuels, concerned with the animal life that is choking to death as I write, and/or concerned with our fellow humans living in the Gulf environment, many still struggling to recover from Katrina, whose lives have or will be irrevocably impacted by the loss of jobs, health, joy caused by this SPEW – please by conscious in talking about this disaster. There are hundreds of words more appropriate to what is happening in the Gulf – “spill” is not one of them!  

Thanks –

Annie

Naropa – June 12-19, 2010

19 Jun

Ah, Saturday at last! I feel the need to have a nice, quiet, nervous breakdown. Or perhaps a really loud one! The past week has been AMAZING! Challenging, busy, exciting, surprising (who knew the brash, no hold barred guy sitting next to me in workshop wearing blue and white striped t-shirt, jeans cut off at the knee and a pork-pie hat who writes about telling his boss he is a “homosexual with a firearms fetish” in the most graphic, in your face terms, was actually a fairly shy, sweet guy??), unsettling, grounding and perfect in almost every way.

I’ve learned more about writing and the person who calls herself Annie Maier in one week than I have in the last 47 years. I can’t possibly put it all in a blog, and won’t even try, but please check out the following writers: Linh Dinh (not for the faint of heart), Jaime Manrique (the most empathetic teacher I’ve ever had), Bobbie Louise Hawkins (above all others), and Ross Gay. Oh, and Thalia Field. Also, we had a moment of silence yesterday for the wonderful Jose Saramago. Check him out at  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/18/AR2010061805426.html

I can’t let the week slip away, though, without recording two middle of the night epiphanies.  First, the issues I’ve been having with Please Kill Me and Other Life Lessons have been solved. Not only have I discovered how to go about making the entire book better, but I know exactly where to go from here and how to pull it together  structurally so that I can be as excited about pages 1-25 as I am about pages 26-300 and so I can say in one sentence exactly what the book is about. I feel like Donald Johanson when he discovered Lucy! Stay tuned for further developments!  Second: Listening to Linh Dinh tell us that the world has absolutely no interest in poets and that the only answer to the storm of systemic failure taking place in our world is to get out into the world – I wrote in my notes: “My life has been transformed.” I didn’t know in that moment what forces in the universe I was channeling, or what the hell they meant by that statement, but it came to me at about 7am this morning. The answer will be my thesis, temporarily titled Tell Me a Story. Again, that’s all I can say right now, but I am WAY excited.  

Finally: the manifesto. I’ve not been in a car, seen a tv (either on or off), eaten meat or been alone other than in the shower or going to the bathroom for the past 7 days. If you discount the fact that roomie is a PSYCHO, the experience has been great. I’ve bonded with others, most notably Mel and Raki (say Rocky, she’s Isreali-American), spoken in public (read “Farragut North Inferno,” a poem written in workshop, at the colloquium yesterday. There were about 100 people there – those who know me will be pleased to hear I didn’t trip on the mike cord that wrapped itself around my ankle nor did I vomit.), and endured a schedule that starts at 8 am and ends at 10pm, with plenty of homework afterward.

It’s been wonderful.