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I’m still avoiding the fact that I must hit the road tomorrow, locking up my lovely mountain home until next Spring. I don’t have time to do another whole post of procrastinating, as in:

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse: A Little Ditty on Denial « melanielynngriffin.

Instead, I will share with you two nonfiction microjourneys I had published in the last issue of Outside In Literary journal:

Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine.

Turns out they are both water-themed, but I’m too beat to try to do anything clever with that. So – I’ll talk to you after the road trip. Blessings as we enter December!

Last Road Trip of 2012

Microjourney One: On surviving hurricane Sandy

Once in a great while, I wish that I did not live alone. I expected one of those great whiles, the night that Sandy roared in. I lit the candles and scooted over on the futon to make room for Fear. Instead, old friends settled in: Louise Erdrich, Annie Dillard, Robertson Davies, and Leo Tolstoy. When Hayden and Handel arrived, I knew there would be no fear, only wind and rain.

Microjourney Two: On Puddles and Tears

I saw her through the dusty window as our bus bounced along a rutted Ugandan road, headed back to Kampala. She was crouched over a muddy waterhole, rinsing clothes in the brown water. Her hair was covered with an orange head wrap, and she wore a long print skirt which was hoisted up to her knees, revealing bare feet.

I had witnessed so much, after three weeks in Africa, that I barely registered the image at the time. I’d like to say that our eyes met, but I don’t think they actually did. She just slipped inside my head and made me cry when I got back to the States and started a load of laundry.

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An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse: A Little Ditty on Denial

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Because I could have been vacuuming;

because I could have been laundering the linens;

because I could have been putting up the storm windows;

because I could at least have been putting away the groceries.

They Can Wait

Because my little writing retreat in the woods needs to be closed up for the winter, and because I do not want to leave. The owls, the foxes, the stars, the snow flurries.

First Flurries

Because if I leave, I will have to go home.

At home, all is chaos — my house, my finances, my schedule, and my schoolwork.

And then it’s Christmas. I do not want to shop, I do not want to clean, I do not want to cook, I do not want to wrap.***

Because of all these things — because of

DENIAL,

a ten-minute writing prompt called An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse was, indeed, an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Ten  minutes is up. Back to reality.

Time is Up

Daily Prompt: Race the Clock | The Daily Post.

How Not to Screw Up Your Holidays

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I guess they are officially here now.

The Holidays.

And you know what that means.

Crazy busy…OMG, I’m so stressed out…I’m so behind with my shopping…Oh no, not another open house!

Stuff We Don’t Need

Every year since my mother died – it’s been four now – I slip away around Thanksgiving to get myself mentally prepared to bow out of the madness. I spend a few weeks at my little writing retreat in New Hampshire and arrive home serene and centered, only to be met with a rush of busyness that knocks me over like a gust of arctic air. No one can stand against it.

This year I am determined. I bought lots of nice chocolates and some calendars – no unneeded gifts, no Christmas cards that waste paper and burn fuel as they jet across the country.

I’m thrilled that my neighbor is making Christmas dinner, so I don’t even have to clean my house, let alone get my pots and pans all dirty.

My Gift to You

Red Christmas Present

To Blog Friends, From Santa

My gift to you, blog friends, is a wonderful essay written this summer, which seems particularly salient as we approach December.

Here are a few excerpts, but I do hope you’ll click on the link and read the whole thing.

  • “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

This is a crucial distinction. We are not victims. This busyness did not happen to us. If you feel too busy, you are likely choosing that. I’m not talking about the people who are working three jobs just to make ends meet; most of us choose our lifestyles, our material “needs,” and our activities, and we can change our minds about what we’ve chosen. We can also change our approach to the holidays.

  • It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”

I was a part of this dynamic when I worked as an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill. I bought into it and tried to live up to it.”Really? You’re not working this weekend?” Or, “You’re leaving already?” There can be an added undertone of righteousness when the work is not-for-profit. At Christmas, it’s about competitive shopping and competitive social calendars.

  • Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Wow – right between the eyes. I could not agree more. This is especially poignant at a time of year when we should probably be reflecting on the deeper meaning of our lives. Maybe that’s why the pace increases!

  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain … The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

This is one of the reasons that becoming a writer attracted me. It gives me “permission” to withdraw from the busyness, for the sake of my creativity. It seems you have to have a special waiver to escape the busyness trap.

  • “I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.”

This is the wonderful gift of a well-lived Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. We get to spend real, honest, spacious, wondrous time with the people we love.

People I Love

You Can Do This

Here’s the full blog by Tim Kreider – I hope you’ll take the time to draw a few deep breaths, put your feet up, and read this:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

While you’re at it, here’s a timely piece about the strikers at Walmart, trying to strike a blow (so to speak) for sanity and time with family over the holidays. It’s written by a pastor who points out that Americans work more than any other people in the industrialized world. Perhaps as much as A MONTH more each year. Ponder that.

Thanks and giving: Why Wal-Mart “Black Friday” strikes are important – Guest Voices – The Washington Post

Do yourself a favor. Make a holiday plan now, and schedule in downtime. Alone time to reflect. Leisure time with your family. Face time (not racing-between-parties time) with your best friends. You can do this. (I’m talking to myself as much as to you!)

I wish you peace and happiness and idle time with people you love. Merry, Happy, and Blessed…

hanukkah icon menorahChristmas tree decoratedkinara  Kwanzaa Candles

photo credits to Clipart and : <a href=”http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=13063&picture=inside-a-christmas-shop”>Inside A Christmas Shop</a> by Petr Kratochvil

Let the Blogs Speak

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“It’s quite a respectable death, being torn to pieces by women.” Black Friday at Walmart? Mitt after his “binders” comment? Bieber on any given day?

Lord, Help Us

No, it’s actually just my luck of the draw for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, which suggests that we open the nearest book to page 82 and use the third sentence in a post. I don’t usually do the Daily Prompt because life is short and there’s so much other stuff to write about. But how could I not, with a sentence like that?

Daily Prompt: Connect the Dots.

The Nearest Book

Talk is Good

Perhaps I’ve just been in the Hopkins Writing Program for too long, but where I’m headed with that quote is to the importance of dialogue. Author Storm Jameson could have spent a lot of ink describing “eyes as black as ebony” or “hair as fine as dandelion fuzz,” but instead she gives us this:

After noting the respectable death aspect, above, our hero continues,

“But I’m an ordinary reasonable man and I should prefer an ordinary death.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t tear out your brain and read it,” she said drily.

“Dear Marie. I’m sure you would if you could.”

I have no idea what this book is about or who these people are, but in just those few words, we learn so much about the characters!

Why? Because that’s how humans relate. With words. Body language, facial expressions, thoughts behind the eyes – these are mostly absorbed at the subconscious level. But conversation is the leading edge of a character, be it fiction or narrative nonfiction or real life. In the blogosphere, it’s basically *all* words.

That’s why it’s odd that bloggers often do not make use of dialogue. I wish they did.

Dialogue breaks up a page and provides white space – breathing space, an open door for the reader to actually enter into the story. Unbroken blocs of text are uninviting. One feels lectured and excluded.

If you can’t find quotes or conversations to use, make it up. As in:

My readers are probably thinking, “She’s got a lot of nerve, telling us how to write a blog. She’s only been blogging a few months!”

 How to Make Up Real Conversations

  • Read writers who do dialogue well. I hear that Elmore Leonard is a king, though I haven’t read much of him. I’ll bet some of your favorite writers are good at it, or they wouldn’t be your faves.
  • Read your dialogue out loud. Better yet, ask someone to read a scene with you.
  • Tell stories in different voices for practice. Use your imagination to give voice to natural objects. Ask a rock to tell you its story. Interview a leaf about its life story. It will have a different “voice” than the rock. A feather?
  • Recall a painful scene from your life. Or a joyful one. Write the dialogue just as you remember it. Deep feelings burn words into us. Recollection helps us process, and it also facilitates writing with real emotion. Tapping into memory and emotion allows us to enter our characters with insight and compassion. Even the most vile person can’t be all bad.
  • Read, read, read! All different kinds of books. I tend towards old, musty novels, but if I only wrote dialogue like Anthony Trollope or Henry James, I wouldn’t have such a huge following. (Oh, wait – never mind.)

    English: Anthony Trollope

    English: Anthony Trollope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photograph of Henry James.

English: Photograph of Henry James. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How to Remember Really Real Conversations

Nonfiction dialogue is harder than fictional because you don’t get to create your characters. They are real. You can still add depth to your dialogue by adding some actions to flesh out their personalities, thusly:

“Well, screw them!” she said, sipping her mint tea. To me, that says she’s complex. Feisty, but savoring a gentle tea.

Do the best you can to remember dialogue as it happened, but don’t sweat it. Your readers know you can’t be quoting exactly; just don’t make stuff up. And you have to expect that your sister’s going to remember it differently. That’s life.

I find that spending time in meditation or taking a walk – with a notepad, of course – can free up my mind to recall dialogue.

Read a Book

Well, that’s more than enough. Following a Daily Prompt should not eat up half the day. But apparently, I had a lot to say. I hope that the people in your blogs do, too!

Now please go read a book. A real one, with pages. And for more on that, visit this great post that was Freshly Pressed this week:

A single page.

But before you settle in, take a minute to share your hints about crafting realistic dialogue. Here’s a spot for your words of wisdom:

Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post?

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Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I ate meat was Thanksgiving of 1978. Once each year, I would forsake vegetarianism to make my mother happy. But after I told her I could no longer partake, she always made a huge bowl of special stuffing with no meat juices, and I would obligingly eat the whole thing. (For her sake, of course.)

I don’t think much about being a vegetarian, except around Thanksgiving. Although the day is supposed to be about gratitude, it’s really about eating a huge dead bird and a bunch of carbs. (Also, football and clipping coupons in anticipation of Friday, which is National Greed Day.)

I don’t miss meat, really, although I suppose if I knew I had only one day to live, I might make a big, fat turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce and lettuce and mayo.

Because Thanksgiving is all about food, it seems a good day to point out a few of the perks of being a vegetarian:

  • You will lose weight, unless you eat a lot of pasta, potatoes, or cheese.
  • People will serve you extra pasta and potatoes because you didn’t get “the main course.”
  • People will also serve you extra cheese because “you need your protein.”
  • You won’t have to eat Aunt Mildred’s gizzard gravy at Thanksgiving.
  • If you find yourself in a Native Alaskan village above the Arctic Circle, you will not have to eat the Caribou Head soup. They might give you an extra slice of chocolate cake instead. (Trust me on this one.)
  • Your friends will become very solicitous, especially in restaurants, where they will tell the waiter, “My friend’s a vegetarian – do you have anything she can eat?” This will be said either in a loud voice, as if they are taking command of a difficult situation, or in a lowered voice, as if they don’t want to embarrass you by sharing your condition in public.
  • You will have plenty of opportunity to practice your creativity, particularly in responding to the absurd question, “But what do you EAT?” The obvious answer is “everything you eat except the meat,” but I usually say something about foraging in the backyard for dandelions and onion grass.
  • You will quickly realize how mature you are compared to certain friends, the ones who, even after decades of knowing you, will impale a piece of dead cow on a fork and wave it in your face, saying, “Doesn’t that look good? Don’t you want some?” Usually, these flesh-wavers are men, and they are married to your best friends.
  • You will feel holier than thou most of the time, and will nod in benevolent compassion without a trace of condescension when a complete stranger on a plane feels compelled to explain why they still eat meat, or how they used to be a vegetarian but got diarrhea, or how “I want to, but with the kids and all…”

I Don’t Care What You Eat …. Really

I think these plane strangers go into defensive mode because they fear I’m going to preach to them. But I’m not a proselytizing vegetarian. It’s not my business. People make their own choices for their own reasons.

The first time I met a vegetarian – even though she was rail thin and had a slightly greenish hue — I knew that I was one at heart. I stopped eating meat the day I moved out of my parent’s house at nineteen. I read a book called Animal Liberation, and that was it. It was an ethical thing. Fish followed meat, and by age 25, I was clean.

I’m an ovo-lacto, meaning I still eat eggs and cheese. I try to eat only organic eggs from free ranging chickens. For full health benefits, it’s best not to eat animal fats at all, but since my motivation is mostly ethical, I’m safe in my cheese addiction.

In Case you Care

If you’re one of those people who considers vegetarianism from time to time, I’ll just include a little info below for you. You can file these facts away in the crinkly recesses of your brain, and one day, who knows? You might just make the switch to other protein sources. It’s been good for my soul and my body, is all I’ll say.

If you are an avowed meat-eater, just ignore me.

If you are one of those people who waves dead flesh under your veggie friends’ noses – please stop.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

. VEGETARIAN DIETS:

  • Reduce the risk of major killers such as heart disease, stroke and cancer while cutting exposure to foodborne pathogens
  • Provide a viable answer to feeding the world’s hungry through more efficient use of grains and other crops
  • Save animals from suffering in factory-farm conditions and from the pain and terror of slaughter
  • Conserve vital but limited freshwater, fertile topsoil and other precious resources
  • Preserve irreplaceable ecosystems such as rainforests and other wildlife habitats
  • Decrease greenhouse gases that are accelerating global 
    warming
  • Mitigate the ever-expanding environmental pollution of 
    animal agriculture

(From the North American Vegetarian Society’s website)

And: Cutting out meat can significantly cut your risk of cancer. Cutting out other animal fats helps as well   http://www.cancerproject.org/diet_cancer/facts/meat.php

There’s No Such Thing as Quiet Racism

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English: Statue of Liberty Gaeilge: Dealbh na ...

Statue of Liberty (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I remember prancing around on stage in some fifth grade extravaganza, singing “Aaaaamerica is a melting pot…” I think I was wearing a cardboard Statue of Liberty headpiece and stars and stripes of some sort.

Anyway, the song’s been stuck in my head since the election, and I’ve been wondering if maybe — just maybe — our nation might be entertaining the notion of pursuing its promise – strength through diversity.

Old White Guys’ Last Hoorah

I’ve been feeling hopeful about race relations. I mean, our African-American president has been elected twice. While conspiracy crazies and FOX News will no doubt find imaginative ways to insinuate, or say outright, that he didn’t *really* win, reasonable people know that this was no fluke.

Our president is a black guy, and I still think this is incredibly awesome. True, the white vote went for Romney in most states, but exit polls tell us that’s largely due to old white guys, which isn’t surprising.

They are seeing the America they used to know – the one where they were in charge – slipping away.

As Senator Lindsey Graham told the Washington Post, “We are not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long-term.” I guess Mr. Limbaugh isn’t doing his job.

God love them, but good riddance to those good old days.

Rush with his buddies

And Now For Something Completely Different…Or Not

How about we try something different? Let’s even go beyond “tolerance” and try for genuine relationships with people of different backgrounds than ourselves. How about that?

That’s where my hopeful head was when my friends and I arrived at a local Chinese restaurant this weekend. There were five of us, and I was the token white chick.

Here’s what happened: my friends were in front of me, waiting to order. I reiterate — I was in line BEHIND them.

The woman behind the counter pointed to me and said, “Let me help her first.”

We all looked at each other, puzzled, and then I said, “I’m with them.”

“Oh, sorry, sorry,” she said.

The first sad thing here is that it didn’t occur to her that we might be together. But what’s worse is that I’m fairly certain that if four white folks had been in line in front of an African-American, it would not have occurred to the server to take that last person out of order.  My friends teased me, calling me “the special person,” and we all laughed about it. But it was not funny.

“Welcome to America, Melanie,” one of them said.

Calling Out Racism

This isn’t on a scale with the Colored drinking fountains and washrooms I remember in Florida when I was a little girl.

And it wasn’t as egregious as the time a guy at a Maryland Christmas tree lot tried to sell me a tree marked SOLD because the purchaser was “only a negro lady.”

But it sure feels the same.

Sign for

We have a long way to go, but we can all help. Prayers are good.

And I just want to make a plea to my fellow Caucasians: keep your eyes and ears open. Speak up.

Don’t let people get away with this kind of “quiet racism.”

There’s no such thing as quiet racism.

It all screams, and we should all call it out.

Thanks for listening, and for hoping with me.

God bless our melting pot.

CIA Unrest: An Untold Story

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My years working at the CIA seem eons away, and so they are. Most of my memories are fuzzy, which is probably the way the agency would prefer it. But apparently there are untold inner stories agitating to be free.

I went to see the movie Argo this evening and came home with my insides churning. The movie is about the CIA efforts to free the American hostages from Iran in 1980.

American Embassy in Tehran, 1979

I can’t quite put my finger on why the film upset me, but I know it has something to do with Maya Angelou’s statement :

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I’ve already shared one CIA secret that needed to be purged, the one that’s flopping around out in the daylight this week after General Petraeus’ unfortunate nose dive. Sexual mores at the CIA aren’t what they could be, or at least they weren’t in my day.

I have no comment on the General’s performance, except to say that unless they found evidence of some truly egregious classified pillow talk, I think the resignation is an over-reaction. But what do I know?

Besides, I’m sick of sex at the CIA. I’ve said what I needed to say about that, here:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/

There’s something else causing me agony tonight. Some untold story.

I was at the agency during the Iranian hostage period, and I had a good friend who had only just escaped Tehran before the fiasco. Perhaps the movie simply stirred up the fear and upset of those times. Although I was just a lowly clerk, I certainly absorbed the crisis vibes all around me.

I think, though, it’s something more personal. More like,

What the #@$%!! was I doing at the CIA??

The -foot ( m) diameter granite CIA seal in th...

The sixteen-foot diameter granite CIA seal in the lobby of the original headquarters building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a psychological term, cognitive dissonance, which describes what must have been pounding inside my brain and my heart the entire seven years I worked there. It’s a situation where you’re trying to live with two conflicting beliefs, or where your behavior and beliefs don’t match.

Say that you are demonstrating in front of the White House against nuclear power on Sunday, and then filing documents promoting nuclear power abroad on Monday. Or maybe you’re hoarding a closetful of anti-Vietnam war buttons, posters, and flyers while microfilming documents detailing the long history of U.S. aggression there.

I did not belong.

I told myself I didn’t care when one friend stopped talking to me because I’d chosen to work “for the dark side.” I told myself I needed the money to pay for college tuition, which was true. I was working two jobs.

Still, I might have paid more attention to the bizarre juxtaposition between a degree in Environmental Studies and a career at the CIA. Crazy, right?

I had stumbled into a career that was taking me far from my values. I was 18, for Heaven’s sake; I didn’t even know what my values were.

Apparently, though, I did. Instead of facing it, I just drank and partied and tried to numb the cognitive dissonance. That’s why it’s still in there, deep in my gut, an untold story.

The emotional unrest I felt during those years got stirred up tonight, watching scenes of stressed-out white men in black suits stalking the marble halls in McLean.

I was there. And I shouldn’t have been.

<Disclaimer: I do not mean to say that I don’t respect part of what the CIA does. I knew some true patriots there, including my Dad. I honor those people.>

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