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What Are You About?

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I need your advice. Now that my blog is a month old (happy anniversary, precious obsession!), I’m thinking it might be time to update the “About” page. WAY easier said than done.

My  About page gets a lot of visits, which makes sense, cause that’s how I scope out other blogs. I want to know: Will this blogger say anything that’s of interest to me? Do they take themselves too seriously? Have they recently discovered the F word and think it’s the coolest thing EVER? Now that I know this page is a popular destination, I realize it deserves more thought than I gave it a month back.

The blogs I’ve perused on WordPress display ridiculous diversity when it comes to these intro or summary pages, so they don’t provide much guidance.

  • Some of them are kind of boring – “I like to garden and read” (although I love both);
  • Many are basically bio’s: here’s where I worked, here’s how many kids I have, here’s a picture of my cat;
  • Some have statements of general blog philosophy “I only report the bright side” (can you say denial?);
  • A few contain admonitions not to say anything mean or controversial or political or whatever in their comments (I’m not clicking follow);
  • A surprising number of people don’t have any tabs that provide context or background or personal info.

Most, it seems, are less personal than mine. I’d spill my guts to a Basset Hound walking up the sidewalk if he gave me a welcoming glance. I’m annoyed by the ones that aim for a mysterious persona, revealing little, and the ones that seem downright paranoid, like if we know what state they live in, we might come stealing their tomatoes or using their wireless. And God forbid we should know even a first name. Now that annoys me. Who are you?

But then, I guess we all get to make our own choices; that’s what this blogosphere world is about, isn’t it? I shouldn’t judge. Sometimes it’s amusing to guess what a blogger’s name might be. Like, you can tell a Margaret from a Zoe, right? Then again, I suppose there are some Margarets out there who are hoping to become Zoes, so that could throw off my name game. I know for a while I wanted to be a Wendy — that was before the burger joint and was probably brought on by Peter Pan.

Anyway, if I don’t watch out, I’ll have to create a new page for “ramblings and digressions” and post this one there. (That, really, is what my “occasional essays” page amounts to.)

So, my point here is, what about you? If you’re a blogger, do you have such a page? What do you include, and why? What did you consider adding but leave out, and why? If you don’t blog, what would you put on your intro page if you started one? And whether or not you blog, what do like/expect to see, or what drives you nuts? And just out of curiosity, if you don’t use your name, how come?

Thanks for your thoughts. And don’t worry, I’m just looking for some input. My blog obsession won’t  lead to a grand announcement of my updated About page. The neighbor’s Basset Hound, however, is going to hear all about it in excruciating detail.

Rubber Ducky Exposes CIA Sexual Harassment

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“Yes, but what do yellow rubber duckies have to do with sexual harassment?” my brother asks a second time. I’m trying to explain the concept of emotional de-cluttering, and he’s just not getting it. Who can blame him? The connection exists only in my brain, and I didn’t even know it was there until I started trying to decide what to do with the collection of rubber duckies in my bathroom.

In keeping with my promise to you, Dear Reader, I have been (sometimes literally) plowing forward — albeit erratically — with my housecleaning attempts, and being mindful of my emotional reactions to the stuff I find it hard to part with.   https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/emotional-house-cleaning/

Why did these five yellow duckies ruffle my emotional feathers? I began wading through charged memories. The first time I remember hearing my parents fight was over whether I should be allowed to keep Dilly, Daffy, and Dally, the ducklings my uncle had given me (no, was the upshot). The pivotal moment when I decided to pursue an environmental career came as I was sitting at the duck pond at Montgomery Community College, contemplating the effects of industrial pollution on innocent ducklings.

Then I noticed the small printing on the ducky chests – Chancellor Hotel, San Francisco, California.

Fade to San Francisco Bar Scene

Suddenly a memory came back to me of sitting at a bar in San Francisco, which wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, back in the day. I used to spend a lot of time at the Sierra Club headquarters in that fabulous city, and in the evenings, visiting field reps would gather at classy joints (not so much) like Lefty O’Doul’s on Union Square. 

That particular night, I was sitting with a distraught young woman who had just been the victim of an elevator pass made by a male Sierra Club staffer notorious for womanizing. She asked for my advice.

I am ashamed to continue this story, so I will instead take you to an underground vault at the Central Intelligence Agency in McLean, Virginia. (How I went from a job at the CIA to the Sierra Club is another story. You’ll have to wait for my book.)

Jump to an Underground Vault at the CIA

Seal of the C.I.A. - Central Intelligence Agen...

Seal of the C.I.A. – Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am newly 19 and have just come back from lunch with my 30 year-old supervisor. He had lunged across the seat of his car, kissed me, and stuck his married hand up my skirt. I am asking an older woman in the secretarial pool what I should do. She gives me two pieces of advice – first, I shouldn’t have gotten in the car with him, and second, I shouldn’t wear such short skirts. I’m inviting that behavior.

I get a new supervisor. This one shoves his married tongue down my throat at the office holiday party. I don’t even bother to tell him when another fine, upstanding CIA employee comes up behind me and shoves his (married) hands down my blouse. After all, this is nothing new — the manager at the hardware store where I worked when I was 18 had done the same thing, after I turned down his kind invitation to swing with him and his wife. My fault, probably. I should have been wearing a turtleneck.

Done with Duckies, Guilt, and Shame

So what did I tell this younger woman at the bar in San Francisco, twenty years post-CIA trauma? Thank God I didn’t tell her to wear longer skirts. But I did advise her to weigh her actions in light of her career goals. She was junior, but on her way up, and he was an influential manager. She never reported the sexual harassment. None of us works there anymore.

I haven’t thought about any of this in many moons. It was well-stuffed. The shocked confusion of an 18 year-old kid being asked to bed down with her 35 year-old manager and his wife, the shame of a 19-year-old who has essentially been told she’s a tart and is getting what she asks for, and the stabbing guilt of not supporting a younger woman struggling with similar emotions.

It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen the woman, but I recently contacted her, and we plan to get together. I’m going to apologize. I should have marched with her up to Human Resources and busted that guy.

Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll get rid of the yellow rubber duckies. Maybe I’ll keep the one with the Santa hat…nah, he reminds me of office holiday parties.

###

(If you’re interested in following the history of sexual harassment at the CIA, class action suits, etc, there’s plenty of stuff online. I”m not here to grind an axe; I’m long gone from there and into healing. Plus, I don’t want to get “disappeared.” But you can investigate on your own. Here are recent articles:      CIA steps up harassment enforcement – UPI.com.)

http://www.newser.com/story/149502/cia-investigating-sexual-harassment-among-agents.html  “It’s an old-boys’ network, and that kind of comes with the territory,” says one victim. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Romping Write Through the Equinox

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Equinox approaches. The hummingbirds have entered kamikaze mode, frantically dive-bombing and bitching at each other as they load up on sugar for their astounding migration from my backyard in Maryland to Central America. Wouldn’t you think that given their insane metabolism, they would be designed to stay put? They don’t seem to store a gnat-worth of energy and have to suck nectar constantly. All that energy invested in endless migration! 

I had a boyfriend like that once. He thought that “settling down” meant being home in the fall and winter “when the kids are in school” and then taking his carpentry on the road for the rest of the year, leaving me with those imaginary kids. He poured his energy into gambling and darting from sweet flower to sweet flower…but I digress.

My point is that the shadows are slanting low, the leaves are beginning to fall, and it’s time to dig out my Fall Writing Plan. (I use CAPS so I’ll take it seriously.) The plan is captured on an Excel sheet, but also involves scraps of paper with colored inks, arrows and cross-outs. It consists mostly of revision, envelope-licking (gotta love literary mags with no online submissions), and assumptions of rejection. Here’s how it goes: I send out my best essays to my favorite outlets in May and June, wait for the rejections to arrive, tweak the essays, and then send them to my second choices. Then third. And so on.

You have to put yourself in puppy mode. You romp out into the world with an essay flapping in your teeth, all vulnerable and excited. As the months go by and reality sets in, you slowly curl up into a smaller and smaller ball and wait for the kick. And then, “Thank you for sharing your work with us. We regret…” Whimper. Then you’re to bounce back, leap to your furry feet with a hopeful smile, dash to the Post Office, and lay your precious words down for another kick.

“Aim for a specific audience,” many people advise. “You’ve got to study the publication. Read the articles, ads, and letters to the editor.”  This worked for me – once. I joined AARP, read their magazine, aimed at their audience and got published. http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-11-2011/melanie-griffin.html#.TrqiPkT6_dg.email Yay!! No pay, but yay anyway. At this point, though, I’ve spent several months of the salary I no longer receive on magazines I’d never read otherwise. (Really, Mel? Martha Stewart?)     I’ve also spent whole days in the periodicals room at the library, taking copious notes about departments, deadlines and editors, only to find they’ve redesigned and let go half their staff by the time I’m ready to submit a piece.

“Screw the editors,” others say. “Just write what you need to write, and it will find a home.”  I like this organic approach better, but it’s not very pragmatic. This is the appeal of a blog, of course.  It doesn’t pay, but it’s a thrill that somebody out there cares enough to click and maybe even “like” or comment.

“You’ve just got to find the right fit.” This is my favorite advice and makes the most sense. It’s a combination of “aim strategically” and “pray hard.” At least I’ve got the prayer part down. I once took a class at the Bethesda Writer’s Center http://www.writer.org/ called The Business of Writing. The speaker said, “To be a freelance writer and author, you need to be disciplined, organized, and focused.”

Oh crap – three strikes.

But c’mon. Half the writers I know or have read about are (or were) heavy drinkers, and more than half are on meds for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or some combination thereof. A lot have flighty minds like mine, which don’t perch anywhere for long. In the last week, I’ve used napkins in a pizza joint to scribble the next scene of a short story I started two years ago, researched proposal writing for a book of creative nonfiction, submitted one historical essay, and revised a travel piece. Oh yeah, I’ve also written an essay for my Johns Hopkins writing class on what kind of teacher I expect to be. Apparently, undisciplined, disorganized, and none too focused.

Well, I’d better go. I’ve got to rifle through my desk and see if I can unearth my Fall Writing Plan. Happy Equinox!

It was here somewhere…

For more on hummer migration:

http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/migration.php

And on the Autumnal Equinox:

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-autumnal-equinox-of-2012

Women Wrestling With Writing

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“I’m afraid to write.” The woman looks down and gives the dirt a few timid kicks with the toe of her Nike-clad foot.

“I don’t get that,” says her twenty-something daughter. “I blogged a lot when I was trying to work through my family stuff a few years ago.”

“Yes, that helped you, didn’t it?” The older woman says, more to herself than to her daughter. “But still, I couldn’t.”

Couldn’t what, exactly? It’s not as if we were talking about publishing  – I had simply suggested that journaling might help her sort through the tangle of what’s-next-in-my-life thoughts that tumbled out of her mouth. What was she afraid of? The thing is, I’ve heard this trepidation expressed often, especially from “women of a certain age.” When I mention that I’ve left my career and gone back to school for a Master’s in Writing, their response is often an expression of awe and fear that would be more appropriate if I were taking up alligator wrestling.

I suppose that could be partly a reaction to me leaving a good paying job to pursue freelance writing. Yes, that’s crazy. But they’ll follow it up with, “I could never write. I’d be too afraid.” If you ask what of, they’ll say they don’t know.

Are they afraid they won’t write well? That they’ll be judged? Won’t measure up to some imagined standard? Feel stupid?

The most important thing about putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, is at least a mild willingness to contemplate truth. Writing can be like moderating a conversation with the voices in your own head as they meander their way towards an emerging truth. When you’re writing, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t share it if you don’t want to. But you do have to be willing to let the truth settle out, like flakes of gold through silty water.

What some people fear, I expect, is looking at the truth. And that’s because the truth is often not an intellectual thing, but a matter of the heart and the emotions. These women don’t want to confront their feelings. Writing can be very revealing and therapeutic, but therapy is hard. And scary. They seem afraid to look inside themselves, afraid of what might be down there. Having been raised to be “nice” women who don’t make waves, they’ve likely got a cap on things like resentment and disappointment and unexpressed anger. Or maybe they fear there is nothing in there at all. Nobody home, or at least nobody worth noticing.

I don’t know what issues the woman in the Nikes was dealing with, and she probably doesn’t either. I do know that in the ten minutes we chatted, she repeatedly apologized for herself and called herself stupid twice. I could feel the toxicity of her shame. I almost wanted to beg her to write.

“You’ve got to expose those wounds,” I wanted to say. “Let it all bleed out onto the page so the infection can get some air and light.” Just Do It, Nike Lady!

One of the reasons I’ve decided to study writing is to learn how I can help others discover the healing power of the pen. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen. I dredge up my crap, dump it on paper, and then sift through the muck looking for lessons, obsessions, warped motivations, and worries I’ve picked up that don’t have my name on them. Even if I start out making a grocery list, my psyche knows that it’s safe between those covers, and it will shortly deliver whatever needs to be processed.

If you don’t journal, Blog People, I hope you will start, or maybe try again if you’ve quit. Personal journaling might reduce navel-gazing on the web, and I’m certain it would make the world, and your brain, a healthier place.

I’m realizing as I write that I’ve got my own fears to confront. I have never read the dozens of old journals stacked in my closet. Once or twice I’ve scanned through some years of sexanddrugsandrock&roll, and what I read was painful. I felt sympathy for the desperately needy person I used to be, and sometimes disgust at the way I treated myself and others. It wasn’t fun reading. But it will surely enrich my writing if I can muster the courage to dive in. Fear is overrated.

“The courage to create is the courage to make something out of what we are feeling.”

Julia Cameron

 

Hope or Hostility in a Multi-Faith World?

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I bought another book last night. I didn’t mean to, but seriously — “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?” — how can you not?

Anyone but a staffer from the Library of Congress would agree that I’ve already got more than enough books. They line every wall in my house and have crept up the staircase, each step providing space for another dozen tomes. The phases of my life are captured in the titles and authors — What Darwin Saw, Robert F. Kennedy and His Times, Saint Francis and His Times, Animal Liberation, Christian Faith and the Environment, Great English Mystics, John Lewis, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Richard Rohr. Countless Grishams and Micheners.   I just recently gave away my collection of Elvis books, but other than that, I find it hard to rid myself of the friendly bindings that grace my home. They are so familiar by now; they hold my history . . .  and a lot of dust.

I’m adding my new book to a large McLaren collection, but it won’t be getting dusty for a good while. I can tell it contains words I need to commit to memory. The author, Brian D. McLaren, is an old friend of mine – used to be my pastor, in fact. He’s the guy who made it possible for me, and thousands of others, to even consider tagging along behind Jesus.

“Do you believe in evolution?” I asked him once, back in the early nineties when I was still in my fascination-with-everything-Darwin phase.

“Well,” he said, “If you tell me God created the world, I’m pretty impressed.  But if you tell me God created a plan so that the world would keep creating itself, I’m even more impressed.”

And just like that, I realized I didn’t have to get into the Unreality Box to explore Christianity. I would be allowed to think.

Brian certainly gave the crowd something to think about last night on the D.C. stop of his new book tour. The premise of his new book is that there’s too much hostility in our world, which is kind of a DUH premise. But his solution is lovely. What if, instead of all the different religions and sects dividing and conquering and judging and excluding, they all came together in common cause against hostility? The idea of seeing love and benevolence as the sacred center for all of us, regardless of the framework or name we put on our belief system – spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, whatever – certainly resonates with me. Sounds like something Jesus might have said.

It’s easier said than done, of course, especially since step one is a heavy dose of humility for all of us. Brian’s book is primarily directed towards Christians — its subtitle is Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World — and it delivers the heaviest blows to Christian hubris. He covers in painful detail the history of his religion’s oppression and genocide and takes a few whacks at TV evangelists (such easy targets). Christians need to learn and repent of their past, not deny or justify it, he says. Interesting that the same prescription that can cure a warped soul might also release a major religion from its painful past. Brian also examines Christian doctrine, liturgy, and mission and how they can contribute to “God’s commonwealth of peace“ instead of “earthly empires of hostility.”

I was going to say that this is a fortuitous time for Brian’s book to be released, with all the violence and hostility and religious misunderstanding that’s going on this week. But sadly, the odds of hitting such a week are fairly high. In America alone, the hostility purposefully generated by multi-million dollar ad campaigns this election year is predictably shameful.

One of things I love most about Brian is that he’s an optimist; it’s in his DNA. Imagine believing that we can rally the world’s major religions against hostility, thereby saving ourselves, future generations and even our planet.

“Perhaps this choice now,” writes Brian,  “to move forward or to hold back, to  open arms or to clench fists, to identify ourselves by opposition and hostility or to identify ourselves by hospitality and solidarity — perhaps this our defining moment .”

And if we choose well? “’This is very good,’ God will say. And we will say, ‘Amen.’”

Amen, right?

Check out Brian’s writing: http://www.brianmclaren.net/

Brian McLaren & Friend in their Natural Habitat

Late Summer Dream

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This essay appears  in the new issue of Outside In Literary and Travel magazine.  http://outsideinmagazine.com/ Enjoy!

LATE SUMMER DREAM

by Melanie Lynn Griffin

Early this morning, I woke to the sound of a Barn Owl emoting outside my window. It was a harsh, jarring sound, but not as harrowing as the murderous fisher cat squalling that sometimes fills my cabin here in the woods. Still, I was glad to be awakened; glad to leave the dream of my brother’s death. I had been anticipating this dream with trepidation, ever since the heart failure diagnosis two years ago.

It wasn’t a nightmare, oddly enough. I was mostly fascinated by the fact that Biff’s facial hair had stopped growing. He said that’s how he could tell he was dead. I was finding it hard to move from denial to grief, given that he seemed pretty much the same as always, except without the five o’clock shadow. And also, I couldn’t find my Toyota in the parking lot, which was somehow more unsettling than my brother’s death and apparent resurrection.

The dream came the first night I arrived at my summer cabin in New Hampshire, following eight days at a suburban D.C. hospital where I bustled around Biff’s bed, restlessly rearranging Kleenex boxes, Styrofoam cups, and wilting gladiolas.

“He’s going to end up here more and more often,” forecast the funereal-faced cardiologist, “unless he has the mitral valve operation.”

“It’s all a scam,” my brother insisted. “They just want me hooked on their drugs and sucked into their surgery machine so they can make money off me.” He left the hospital for the second time in as many years without the operation, but with a bag full of meds he probably won’t take.

I fled.

Having been woken up before dawn, I figure I deserve to take the day off. I’m going to rest, indulge my Henry James phase, and try to remember to breathe more deeply. Sitting on my back deck, I bite into an intoxicating late summer peach I got from the farmer down the road. The sweet juice flows down my chin and lavishly adorns my t-shirt. The browning meadow is dotted with goldenrod, and I think there’s the tiniest twinge of crimson in the sugar maples. Apple leaves, tired of hanging on through the long drought, drift down onto the deck as yellow warblers bicker in the branches.

The ancient hydrangea bush begins to sway, and I’m startled when a dappled fawn materializes from behind a veil of white blossoms. The animal seems deep in contemplation, as it gently plucks up and delicately chews its vermillion breakfast of Indian Paintbrush. It seems late in the year for a fawn – too close to hunting season. I consider worrying, but decide against it. It’s my day off and besides, I’m not in charge of life and death.

On Pollinators, Pain, Gay Guys, and Gratitude

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This morning I sat on a bee, which is troublesome since I’m looking at a 10-hour drive tomorrow. As I stood in the kitchen smearing baking soda paste on my posterior, I thought of Ferdinand the Bull. Do you know him? Ferdinand is the children’s story of a gentle bull who didn’t want to leave his wildflower meadow to compete in bullfights. All the other bulls would snort and kick around, putting on a show for scouts on the lookout for fierce fighting bulls. But Ferdinand just liked to sit in the meadow and smell the flowers. Then one day, he sat on a bee and went rampaging across the field and so ended up at a bullfight where he wouldn’t participate, no matter how much they abused him. (Read an interview of a bullfighter turned animal rights activist http://www.vice.com/read/bullfighter-152-v15n10) This being a children’s story, he was brought back to his wildflower meadow in a cart and lived out his days sitting peacefully beneath a tree.

Ferdinand at Peace

I loved the story of Ferdinand, and my Dad loved to read it to me. The story is a metaphor for so many things. I don’t wonder that might father treasured it. He was a gentle man, born with a withered arm that left him unable to work on the family farm or fight with the other men in World War II. Instead, he became a college English professor and then spent the war years as a cryptanalyst, pondering and puzzling over words (it’s in my blood).

The story of Ferdinand also brings to mind a gay friend of mine who was forced to charge around the athletic fields with the other guys instead of taking drama class and then was beaten up in the showers for his efforts. And it makes me think of the lure of simplicity and the fruits of a contemplative lifestyle – I’ll no doubt be going there soon on my page, The Spiritual Life.

This morning, though, my mental meandering leads me to contemplate gratitude, a huge gift of the spirit as I see it. One you can cultivate through various spiritual practices, like fasting (makes you grateful for french fries!) or spending time in nature. Unless you are in a deep clinical depression, it’s hard not to feel gratitude if you are paying any attention at all to a natural setting. Colors, cloud shapes, a deep breath of air. All so simple, yet so complex.

I was born with a grateful bent, so I don’t have to cultivate it as much as some people do. Gratitude as a default setting is a tremendous gift, because it makes one prone to joy, as well. I’m also prone to the downward spiral, but that’s part of living life to the full – I’ve worked hard to escape my denial of childhood wounds and the resulting adult dysfunctions. I want to feel all those emotions, high and low. They’re mine. So I can even feel gratitude when I’m “down in the dumps,” as my Mom used to call her depressed days. Even a bee sting on the butt can offer food for thought and growth.

What I’ve learned from this little inconvenience is that blogging can be a spiritual practice. Just as I see pain and suffering as opportunities to look at things from the broader perspective of the spiritual realm, so, too, is blogging such an opportunity. If I’d gotten a bee sting on my butt two weeks ago before I began this blog, I doubt my response would have been a reflection on gentleness and gratitude. So thanks, God, for this blogging experience and for Ferdinand and for my Dad. And for bees and the meadows of wildflowers they pollinate. Amen.

Best Not Sat Upon

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