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Reasons to Come to New Hampshire

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There are so many reasons to come to New Hampshire in the fall. The subtle rose pink of the hydrangea bush that presides over my grandmother’s flower bed, which is mostly golden rod at present with a few late purple phlox here and there. The smell of browning yellow leaves piled up beneath the towering maples as I rustle through them on the way to the barn. The faintly orange-blushed and scarlet-tipped trees at the bottom of the field, promising to take my breath away in a week or two.

Beedie’s maples. Beedie’s barn. Beedie’s flowerbeds and fields. Funny how I still think of this whole place as belonging to my grandmother, gone lo these thirty years. (Writing in this old house brings out words like lo and lest.)

black and white quiet hills

There are ghosts here, most certainly. Beedie had a friendship of sorts with the one who haunts the attic — our whole family called him Andy, one of the early residents of the house who is now buried in the town graveyard.

Andy’s father Temple Baker bought the farm in 1862 for fifteen hundred dollars and had lived here less than a decade when a cow kicked him in the leg and he died. Andy and his siblings (except Fred, who died as a child) grew up in the house and carried on farming until the mid-twenties. Beedie always swore she heard Andy at night when she was alone, and she spoke to him openly.

I only heard him once, playing one long mournful note on the ancient pipe organ in the attic late at night. I just about peed my pants. That was nearly fifty years ago, and I’m still not entirely at ease in the attic.

I sense family spirits here almost constantly. But I don’t think of them as ghosts in the building, rather as sprits living inside me who become more real when I’m up here, if that makes any sense. My brother’s passing is too recent for me to allow him in — he’s still painfully real to me most of the time — but Beedie, Mom, Aunt Val, Cousin Averil, the uncles — they all belong to this house out of time. I am not alone.

Granite State Voters

Another reason to come to New Hampshire in the fall, especially every four years, is the presidential election. I like volunteering, even though the beleaguered citizens of the Granite State can get pretty grumpy as election day nears, after their phones have been rung and their doors have been knocked and their TVs have been inundated with political ads for weeks and weeks and weeks. 

Tomorrow I am making massive amounts of macaroni salad and marinated zucchini to drop off at the Democratic headquarters in town, where busloads of volunteers will be arriving from Massachusetts for the first of four weekends of door-knocking. I love the energy of election season.

Life Goes On

But I won’t get serious about volunteering for a while. I need downtime, writing time, reading time. This is the best reason for coming to New Hampshire. Tonight I’m joining my neighbors for outdoor pizza night at an organic farm up the road, and tomorrow I’ll be going to a free cello concert at a lovely stone church in town. Sunday I’ll attend the Quaker meeting in Putney Vermont. It’s the first Sunday of the month, so there will be a potluck. And I’ll stop to buy apples and a pumpkin at the farmer’s market on the way home.

Life is simpler here, even during the swirling insanity of the 2016 election.

Day 3 of my attempt at a month of daily blogging

Daily Writing: Discipline or Drivel?

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I don’t know how this will go, but I’m considering blogging every day while I’m hidden away here at my New Hampshire writing retreat. The theory is that blogging will get my pen moving and words of some sort flowing, and the moving pen and flowing words will continue beyond the blogging and miraculously become a full-length memoir. 

 

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Could happen.

Or more likely, the blogging will siphon off just enough creative energy each day that there’s nothing left to flow elsewhere. Worst case — which happened yesterday — is that I post a blog and then get lost in articles, political blogs, pollsters, and youtubes and end up blowing the whole day. Although the video of Ellen DeGeneres and Michelle Obama shopping at CVS was pretty funny. 

So consider this fair warning. I have no idea what you might find on this page over the next month. The good news is, it will likely be shorter than my usual offerings. There may be reflections and photos after a walk in the woods, a poem or two, a to-do list with commentary, struggles with my sermon prep, snippets from my journal, snarks about Trump. Who knows the places we’ll go!

I will be volunteering for the senate and presidential campaigns while I’m up here, so you’ll hear about that. Volunteering in my very-blue home state of Maryland makes me feel virtuous but probably doesn’t do much else. Here, though, every vote counts towards keeping the old red, white and blue from being tainted with orange hair dye and tanning cream.

Sorry, that was mean. Donald Trump does not bring out the best in me. Or anyone, for that matter.

Anyway, I’ve volunteered to make scads of food for busloads of volunteers coming up from Massachusetts this weekend. So who knows? Maybe I’ll share some “recipes from the campaign trail” with you. The possibilities are endless! Got any suggestions for topics?

Day two. Short and (mostly) sweet.

Photo attribution: Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Trump’s Disagreement with Reality

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Trump’s Disagreement with Reality

You can disagree with a policy. You can disagree with an action. You can disagree with an interpretation or an assumption or even a worldview. But when you disagree with reality, you are either lying to others or lying to yourself.

Which category Mr. Trump’s disorder falls into is a mystery to me: probably both. I am not a psychologist (if I were, this election would have exploded my head months ago), but I am fascinated by what must go on in that orange head. 

One of my favorite moments during the presidential debate Monday night was Hillary’s line, “Donald, I know you live in your own reality.”

Bingo. I think that’s quite true.

A Big, Beautiful Wall

The Republican candidate’s brain seems to function like a second or third-grader’s. It’s motivated by wanting people to notice him and praise him, wanting to appear grand while always knowing underneath that he’s never going to be good enough to please Daddy.

I think he got emotionally stunted in elementary school and simply never grew into an adult who accepts and operates within reality. He does not have a moral center because he never matured enough to develop one. Instead, he built a “big, beautiful wall” around himself so that nothing and nobody could hurt him. He built it out of money and denial and meanness. And behind his wall, he hides from reality and launches tweets at anyone who disagrees with him.

Sadly, I believe his emotional immaturity and false reality ballooned into a personality disorder. At least one. But there I go again, trying to diagnose him. I have a terrible need to understand this entity that is threatening my country and the world.

Recovery is an Option, Mr. Trump

I wonder sometimes if the reason the man creeps so deeply into my psyche is that I can relate at some level. I struggle against the very same bugaboos that haunt him, the need for praise and recognition, the belief that my way is the only way, the insecurity that drives grandiosity — all driven by fears.

But I’ve worked crazy-hard to recover from my brokenness. It’s meant humbling myself and accepting hard truths. Through spiritual pursuits and practices, honest relationships, psychotherapy, and twelve-step recovery for various emotional addictions, I have escaped the house of mirrors with no true center where I used to live and am coming into an entirely new reality. One where I am good enough: beloved, even.

I get how emotional pain can leave you stranded in your own reality, isolated and afraid. I am sad for you, Donald.

Let’s Face Reality

But what of Trump’s followers? That’s a harder question and one that I  hesitate to address because I don’t want to come across as telling anyone that my reality is correct and theirs is incorrect. There’s enough of that going around, and it’s part of what’s bringing our country down.

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But please just take a big, self-reflective breath and think about this: How could you hear a man interrupt a woman over and over with “I never said that,” and “That’s not true,” and “Wrong, wrong,” without googling to find out who is telling the truth? Do you just assume that the male is always right? Or do you actually hate Clinton so much that you don’t want to know the truth — so much that you would vote for a pathological liar over her? Yes, I grant you, she is not honesty personified. And she’s secretive. Almost all politicians become like that.

But, but . . . Donald is sick. Unwell. Unbalanced. How could you watch the debate and deny that reality?

Imagine the man who turned up at that debate talking to FOREIGN LEADERS, for heaven’s sake! Tell me, didn’t you feel even the teensiest bit of relief when Clinton spoke directly to the rest of the world, trying to reassure them that we have not lost our minds, that we will stand by our agreements and will not catapult into an alternate universe? To me, it felt like an adult had finally entered the room to restore order.

I don’t agree with all of Clinton’s policies or actions, but I want a grown-up in the White House. One who doesn’t make faces and yell and interrupt and insult people and live inside a second-grader’s fortress of lies.

In response to a WordPress word prompt: disagree.

Trump-Induced Panic

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Panic, of course, stems from fear. It also entails a certain loss of perspective, a degree of obsession. I confess to it.

Some days are worse than others. Usually the trouble starts with a visit to Nate Silver’s electoral polling website FiveThirtyEight (Avoid it at all costs.) I became addicted to the site after the conventions in July, when my nephew pointed to his computer screen with a celebratory, “Hey, come look at this! Hillary has an eighty percent chance of winning!”

I liked looking at the numbers then. I looked every few days. Then, as the lines on the charts grew closer together, I started checking every day. Now . . . well, we won’t talk about that.

Today Nate posted an election update entitled “The Case For and Against Democratic Panic.” His conclusion? “I don’t know.” Well, I’m way out ahead of him. And I’m not alone. I read a fascinating article in Slate this week quoting therapists who describe an epidemic of headaches, nightmares, insomnia, and digestive problems caused by Trump’s candidacy. Here is one of the many sentiments expressed in the article that captures my feelings exactly:

“Liz hasn’t agreed with past Republican candidates, she says, but she didn’t think they would ‘ruin my country, or cause civil war, or cause World War III.’ But her fear also stems from her incredulous realization that so many of her fellow citizens inhabit a reality that barely intersects with her own. ‘I can no longer see where they’re coming from,’ she says of Trump supporters. ‘I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone.’ Even if Clinton wins, she’s terrified of Trump’s followers responding with violence.”

The woman quoted above is not the only person I have heard utter the words, “civil war.” It is the easiness with which this has happened that scares the pants off of me. One day you think you know your country — yeah, there are racists and people with anger problems and there’s evidence on Twitter that thousands of people have lost all civility — but, still, we are in America and we will work it out. We have a democracy and we have people like Bernie Sanders.

Now I just don’t know. If Trump loses and calls “Rigged!” I could be in physical danger for the bumper stickers on my car.

Speaking of the Twilight Zone:

This week on my Facebook page, a “friend” whom I don’t really know (relative of another person I don’t know well) went whacko on my actual friends. When I posted that I was worried about the polls and heading to New Hampshire to work on the election, I got a lot of “you go, girl!” and “thank you” and “go for it!” responses.

And then up pops this woman. A conservative “Christian,” who drops in Jesus references here and there. She begins with sarcasm, descends into rants about Hillary murdering diplomats in Benghazi/the Iran nuclear deal/ISIS/Obama being a “muslim sympathizer”/email email email, and ends up by calling my friends “ignorant hater . . . insane fool . . . liar . . . ISIS sympathizer . . . revolting moron.”

Her main sources of information appear to be (her version of) Jesus and Fox News: “As for Jesus, he did cause a stir among the politicians of his day because he told them the hard truth that they didn’t want to hear.” (Presumably like Trump.)  And this: “Fox News is the ONLY major news media who even attempt a non-biased approach.” No comment.

She did own that perhaps Trump is “a bit of a wild card,” but still better than HRC because she is “pure evil.”

And here, in case you missed it, is an astonishing video of another denizen of the Twilight Zone, claiming that there was no racism before Obama came along:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/22/trump-ohio-campaign-chair-no-racism-before-obama

So: when today’s word prompt of “panic” came up, there was no question what I would write about.

Clowns often induce panic, especially if they are angry and incite violence and are running for president

Clowns often induce panic, especially if they are angry and incite violence and are running for president

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies if I Offend, but I’m Offended

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As with all religions, I believe there’s a lot about Catholicism that’s good, quite a bit that’s questionable, and a few aspects that make me shudder. If I were a Catholic, my personal crusade (now there’s a shudder for you) would be organizing my fellow parishioners against the rule that non-Catholics aren’t allowed to take communion in their church. I mean, really — remember Jesus? Come-unto-me, God-loves-everyone Jesus? Perhaps with Pope Francis in the Vatican, there would be a chance.

I went to a Catholic funeral mass this morning. After a long ninety minutes, it came time for the eucharist. The priest got up, sang a nice chant, and said “For you Christians who aren’t Catholic, unfortunately, we are not able to share communion with you. During this time please be praying for unity in the church.” Unity in the church? WHAT??

When presented with this situation over the years, I have gone forward and pretended to be Catholic, watching others so I’d know how to cross myself. I have rebelliously walked down the aisle and taken communion in all my non-Catholic glory, daring the priest with my eyes to refuse me. I have gone forward and received a blessing, something that some Catholic churches offer for those of us not good enough for their communion wafers. I have stayed in my seat, sometimes stewing in resentment, sometimes quietly praying, depending on the day. I have excused myself and gone to the restroom.

Today I was already angry because the priest had just finished explaining that Heaven is for God and for the people that God loves. Again: WHAT??? Only one way to hear that: God loves some of us, but not others. You can believe whatever you like about Jesus, an after-life, heaven & hell, whatever. But you don’t get to say that God only loves certain people. Purple robes and incense notwithstanding. God IS love, just IS, so how could God NOT love?

So I couldn’t help it, when the priest declared my unfitness for the Lord’s supper, which Jesus himself asked his friends to always share together in remembrance of him, I sat in my pew and rudely shook my head for all to see. It’s just wrong, and Catholics should rebel against it.

After that, I sat quietly and prayed that God would heal my anger and pettiness, the church’s hubris, and all people — all of us.

All are welcome in these seats, not matter what the guy in the purple robe says.

All are welcome in these seats, no matter what the guy in the purple robe says.

The Day it’s OK to Be Sad

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I thought I’d re-post this four-year old September 11th blog, since it still seems relevant. Little did I know four years ago when I wrote about the divisions and anger in our nation and at the 2012 political conventions how much worst it could get! Be kind to yourself and to others today, please.

Re-post from 9/11/12

I’m terribly sad, which I suppose makes sense, since it’s September 11th. Everyone is allowed to be sad on this one day. You’re not told to “buck up” or “move on,” you just get to be sad.

The odd thing is, I had forgotten the date. I don’t watch television or get a newspaper, and I usually spend my mornings “unplugged” and in silence. And yet I felt myself sinking from the moment I dragged out of bed, late. I turned on the car radio on my way to the doctor’s office and heard some guy talking about how pain is often a shell around understanding or something like that, and how we have to go through the pain to get to meaning, which is very important in trauma. I turned it off. I was already down and didn’t want to hear about trauma.

Then I saw about a dozen people waving huge American flags from an overpass. Something to do with the election, I guessed. Perhaps they wanted us to honk, but nobody did. It still didn’t register.

It wasn’t until late this afternoon that I was writing a check to my doctor and asked for the date. She looked at me like I must’ve just returned from the Mars expedition. “Oh,” I said, and wrote September 11th.

I feel kind of bad about not remembering, like it’s dishonoring to the people who died and their families. I guess my psyche knew, though I was not aware of it. I had plugged into the cosmic stream of grief and loss that is part of the human journey without even knowing I was supposed to be mourning with the rest of my nation.

Thing is, I no longer feel the sense of oneness and spiritual attachment that was so beautiful during the 9/11 aftermath. (I am *not* saying that 9/11 was beautiful, I am saying there was beauty in our response.) It’s long gone. One of the things I mourn on this day is the fact that we can’t have that unity more often. Even the chants of “USA, USA!” at both the political conventions were accompanied by clenched fists and mostly angry or righteous expressions.

Today my response is not to reach out for community or conversation. It’s to isolate and allow myself to be sad. I’m sure there’s a load of talking going on out there in TV/radio/internet land. Nothing more needs to be said, and I don’t want to hear it.

I’m just doing simple, nurturing things. Writing in my journal, watering plants, filling the birdfeeders and birdbaths, making a healthy salad for tomorrow’s picnic with someone I love.

But here I find myself reaching out, after all. Somehow I just wanted to tell you, whoever you are out there in the blogosphere…I am sad today.

Loving Beyond Humans to All Living Creatures

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As I mentioned in my last post, I have joined the We Stand With Love campaign to try to counteract the hatred and bigotry running rampant in our country lately. Below is my contribution to the campaign, entitled Loving Beyond Humanity to All Living Creatures. Here, too, is the link if you want to see a cute doggie picture and read other essays on going “Beyond Love.”

by Melanie Lynn Griffin

The more we practice “loving beyond ourselves,” the more we are challenged.

Heart-stretching can be a painful exercise as we confront our self-centeredness and prayerfully question the ways our societies, religious communities, and families make us insensitive to “the other.”

The reward is a gradual awakening to our true selves, and the discovery that our capacity for love and compassion is boundless: Joy! Connection! Belonging!

But wait — how far might this go? Might we move beyond ourselves to our families, and beyond our families to our neighbors, and beyond our neighbors to “the other,” and beyond “the other” to the enemy, so we include all human beings in our circle of love?

But then, might it go farther still – to include our fellow creatures?

To get there, we will have to have the courage to face some inconvenience.

How inconvenient to feel compassion for the cow that died for your steak dinner, or to learn that the pig that became your bacon was smarter than your golden retriever, or that contrary to what your father told you, the trout flapping on the end of your line most likely does feel pain.

How inconvenient that ExxonMobil’s potential Arctic oil field (which will power your SUV) also happens to be a nursery for polar bears and caribou, or that the site of the proposed Walmart (where you will buy your cow-skin shoes) is also home to an endangered gopher tortoise.

Your compassion practice may lead you to change some of your daily habits.

At the very least it will raise some tough questions: What is the cost of your lifestyle to the nonhuman creatures who share our planet?

Does a nonhuman creature have intrinsic value as God’s handiwork, or is it only valuable in service to humans? Today, practice stretching your circle of concern to include our fellow creatures on this beautiful planet that teems with precious life.

Questions for Today:

When have you witnessed obvious cruelty to an animal? How did you respond?

What would our society look like if we became more sensitive to the suffering of animals?

What happens to us if we become less sensitive to the suffering of our fellow creatures?

 

Melanie Lynn Griffin was an environmental lobbyist for many years. Now she is a freelance writer and pastor.

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