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A Writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder At Play

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A WRITER’S ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT PLAY

Multi-day writing conferences are bad for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe I should say they’re good for it. They feed it, encourage it, even celebrate it.

“Rejoice!” such venues declare. So many ideas! So many stories! So many topics and characters to be enthusiastic about! And most of all: so many directions I could go!

Since I was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago, I’m more patient with myself in such situations. I don’t mind letting my mind out to play, to imagine, to dream. No harm done.

I know this hyper-excitement and bouncy brain syndrome will lessen within a few days of the closing session tomorrow. I’ll lose the business cards I’ve collected and forget all my new writerly best-friends.

The passions that are real and meant for me will stick, and the rest are harmless mental entertainment.

The time I’ve spent sitting in this quiet seminary library researching the possibility of a Princeton Continuing Education Certificate in Ministry and Theology will blend into one of countless similar memories.

Seminary Musings

Whenever I spend time with a bunch of pastors as I have at this Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop, I suffer from a mild case of WannaBe, even though I am technically already a pastor at my church. I feel like a pretend pastor, because although I’ve taken a few seminary classes and am a “certified” Spiritual Director, I’ve not done the real stuff, the painful stuff — the heavy duty Christian History and Comparative Theologies and Advanced Homiletics and Old and New Testament I & II.

Why would I? Life is short, and I’m fairly certain my studies wouldn’t help anybody. Nobody cares what I know or think about theology, it doesn’t help suffering people, and I’m sure I’d find some other reason to judge myself “not good enough.”

I never know where the Holy Spirit might lead me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to these hallowed grounds. Never say never, though.

Forget the Christians!

I did get some important clarity and focus today, which is, as any ADD-addled person knows, a nugget of pure gold.

Drum roll, please:

I think that I may have decided on the “audience” for my writing. Actually, if this sticks, it will be a huge step forward in my meandering wander towards an intentional, serious writing project.

Surprisingly, the clarity came during a ridiculously brief fifteen-minute meeting with a former editor of Christianity Today magazine. This teensy time slot came with my registration for the conference — time with an editor or publisher or author of your choice — so why not?

I went into the meeting with my usual random scattered thoughts and a page of notes that involved a number of question marks and read: outlets, publishers, trends, niche, spiritual, de-mystify, different kind of Christianity, CIA, environment, drug addict, pastor, memoir, audience.

Somehow in all that, my new best publisher-friend found a way to help me through my confusion.

“You are writing for the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd, and there are a lot of them. Not Christians. You’re not writing for Christians.” 

The relief and certainty I felt about this “not Christians” directive bordered on euphoria. I hadn’t realized it, but the thought of writing for Christians makes me tense, like I have to quote the Bible a lot and throw around names and phrases like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and orthodoxy and reformation.

Christians have historically believed that they have the answers to all of life’s big questions right in their big book. They tend to like certainty. I got nothin’ for folks like that. No answers, no resounding Message.

Gratefully, I think an increasing number of Jesus’s followers are moving away from that fixed mindset. As Anne Lamott said on the opening night of this conference, “I don’t want to read ‘message stuff.’ I want to know who are you and what have you figured out here?”

That, I can write about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Power of Words

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Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs that “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

Or as Anne Lamott said last night, we want to say, “Me, too!”

The power of words to connect us seems to be a theme at this third annual Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary. At this morning’s keynote, author Diana Butler Bass referenced “the tender power of I,” suggesting that the word “I” connects us to one another and to God. When Moses said, “Here I am,” and God said, “I AM,” it connected them and placed them on sacred ground.

Dogwood on sacred grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary

Many times as Diana told her personal story, I found myself thinking, “Me, too!” Her journey along “the road to an unexpected vocation” resonated with me and made me feel just a little less crazy for chasing this writing dream.

“Writing is a spiritual path,” she said. “Cherish your own path . . . Who are you? To me, that is the central question writers must struggle with.”

Writing Good Into the World

As intimate and personal as writing can be — especially memoir writing — there is also a strong communal element to it. Who am I in the world? What is my calling? How can I be of help?

I don’t know if it’s the spiritual nature of this conference or the dire times we live in or both, but this sense of mission and calling seems to be another big theme this week. 

Like Anne Lamott, Diana expressed “deep distress” over what’s going on in America. She thinks it’s a critical time for people of faith to “write for the world” as a way to counteract evil and inspire people.

“We are living in the age of the anti-word,” she said. “There is evil surrounding words right now . . . amazing technology that could spread beauty is instead being used to spread evil. Words are being purposefully used to undermine truth and beauty and wholeness . . . Malevolent forces are taking words and using them for oppression.”

Diana urged the two hundred-plus people crammed into the auditorium this morning to “write to reach people’s hearts” and to “engage intentionally to build goodness and beauty and to embody the Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Writing Wisdom

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I’m just back from listening to my literary hero talk about writing and faith. Of course she ended up talking about Donald Trump, because this is 2017 and that’s what we talk about, no matter where we start out.

Anne Lamott says that she is still stunned, shaken to her core. “I wake up every morning and think, ‘this can’t be what’s happening.’”

Ditto.

She says she is just starting to get her sense of humor back and I’m awfully glad to hear it. Most of us are holding our collective breath much of the time these days, but it’s hard to hold your breath and laugh at the same time. So spending an hour with Anne Lamott was good medicine.

“We’ve got to stick together and keep it simple,” she advises. “Grace will bat last; it always does. And in the meantime we’re going to take care of the poor.”

Anne says that in writing as in life, “failure, messes and mistakes are where it all happens.” I wonder if that might be true for politics as well? Might the new grassroots energy and determination engendered by our massive electoral failure invigorate America’s progressive base so that we can care for the poor and the planet again?

I hope so. I don’t know. But I do know that I don’t want to talk about President Tweet. He takes up too much of my mental space already.

Writers Write

I’ve come to the third annual Frederick Buechner Writing Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary to remind myself that life goes on. I need to focus on my writing again.

Last year at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I committed to blogging every night. It was too much. I hardly slept. I will not promise that from Princeton.

For tonight, I’ll just share some of Anne’s wisdom about writing:

My favorite line of the night: “The first thing you do is to stop not doing it.”

She says everyone wants to write, but only “down the road” after they sort themselves out. “There is no as-soon-as: as soon as you retire, as soon as your kid graduates, as soon as you move. You don’t want to wake up in three years, that much nearer to the end of your life, and not have written . . . And don’t wait till you think you have something to say — you’ll never write a thing.”

“Start where you are, and assume it will be go badly.” In her book Bird By Bird, there’s a whole chapter called Shitty First Drafts. Expect your first draft to be too long and too detailed. “Taking stuff out is one-third of creativity. Get a good eraser.”

“Perfectionism,” Anne says, “is about terror. Terror of not being enough. We evaluate ourselves as objects.” Ouch. Clanging bell of truth.

Anne often ends her talks with a quote from Frederick Buechner, even when she’s not at the Buechner Writing Conference. And so she did:

“From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein. . .”

Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary

Thanks for Voting My Blog Best on the Internet!!

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Thanks For Voting My Blog Best on the Internet!!

My blog readership recently topped 5,000, and I just want to say thank you to all you winners who support me. Of course this is not about me, it’s about you, and how great and smart you are for following my blog. #IRock

This is ME

This is ME

Because let’s face it, there’s a lot of fake news out there — so sad — but my blog is 100% true and factual. I know facts, and these are facts. Believe me. I know blogs, and this is a blog. This is a great blog, one of the greatest, if not the greatest. #Greatest

My good friend Pope Francis — he says I’m brilliant, by the way — he said that this is the best blog. He said it will make America great again if enough people follow it. Believe me. #MAGA #TheBest

This is ME. Being famous. Many, many people wanted my autograph

This is ME. Being famous and signing a book. Many, many people want my autograph.

This is me, giving author Anne Lamott my autograph. She loves my blog.

This is ME, giving Anne Lamott my autograph. She says me blog is the best. She is a writer too, but many people say I am better.

If the murderous Mexicans at WordPress hadn’t lied about the stats, you would see that this blog – Melanie Lynn Griffin’s blog – has over a million followers. My people will investigate. Illegals trying to delegitimize. Sad.

Anyway, congratulations to all my friends!! My best friends who love me. Many people — many, many people — say they give their computers a standing ovation every time a new Writing With Spirit blog by Melanie Lynn Griffin comes into their mailbox.

What? You don’t get this masterpiece mailed directly to your inbox?

Loser.

#QuiteAJourney   #ThanksForFollowing!!

A Rant at God with a (Borrowed) Redemptive Message

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This post had been relegated to the “failed drafts” folder, for having no redeeming qualities and managing to sound pissy despite being toned down more than once, when who should walk into my living room and say, “whoa, stop, you should publish that” than my favorite author Anne Lamott!?

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Here’s Anne Lamott giving me profound advice.

That’s not precisely how it happened, but it felt like that. What actually happened was that Anne published a blog post similar in energy and tone to this one, except that it’s beautifully written and ends on a somewhat redemptive note.

So in a cheap writerly turnabout, I’m going to append Anne’s post to this one and call the whole thing a plus for the universal karma.

Even if it is essentially just a rant at God. Anne’s kind of bitching at God, too, which makes it acceptable. I don’t like taking this tone with God, but it’s all I’ve got right now. Besides, the Psalms are full of “godly” people throwing out angry questions like:

“Why is life like this, God?” 

“What’s it take to get your attention down here?”

“Hello, how much do we have to put up with before you see our plight?”

“Is this any way to run a world??”

So I’m joining the ranks of ranters. If you’re depressed, please don’t read this. It won’t help.

Dear God:

Things are bad. Really, really bad. And I’m thinking it’s time for you to fix it. 

I’m confused about the plan, God.

It’s my understanding that we all have a spark of the Divine within us, and it’s our job in life to dismantle the inner obstacles that keep us from channeling Pure You — goodness and love and the like. That’s one of the ways you reveal yourself in the world: through the people you created. I like this part of the plan.

We need to intentionally connect with you so that we have the desire and power to fix what we’ve screwed up here. OK, I’m game. And I’m certain that you are right here in this mess, accompanying us and offering to help us clean things up.

And thanks for that. But — from my humble vantage point, this plan is not working. 

I don't know which one bothers me more -- the one spewing hateful fire, or the one who thinks this is just TOO fun! Photo: Dallas Morning News

Which is more offensive? The one spewing hate or the one who thinks this is just TOO much fun? Photo: Dallas Morning News

We’re a Mess

Maybe I’m just having a bad day; I’ve been having a lot of them lately. But I don’t think it’s only me. Three friends have recently said these exact words to me: “I can barely function.” 

These are praying people, trying to channel God, but instead they seem to have tapped into the spirit of Eeyore. Should we just put extra-strength anti-depressants in the water supply and be done with it? 

Woe is Me

Woe is Me

As a friend said the other day, “I don’t know what’s going on — it seems like everyone’s walking around under a dark cloud.”

Yeah – and we’re a bunch of relatively well-off suburbanites doing our gardening and going to the gym and paying the gas bill. We don’t live in the frickin’ Gaza Strip; our daughters weren’t kidnapped by extremists in Nigeria, nor were our families on the Malaysian airliner recently blown out of the sky. Or any of the other planes that have been falling out of the sky of late.

This Rant Precipitated By…

World events did not bring on this rant, though they may have contributed.

Here’s what put me over the edge:

I stopped to give my condolences to my neighbor J who had just returned from North Carolina where she was cleaning out the beach house of her recently deceased partner. Who as you know, God, randomly fell and hit his head and died. Just like that. Did that have to happen — right after J’s surgery and during her radiation treatment for breast cancer? 

Anyway, I was helping her carry things from the car and she told me she had just had an accident on the beltway. “It isn’t the accident that’s got me shaken, it was the other woman. She had the foulest mouth of anyone I’ve ever met.” 

You have to picture my neighbor J — First of all, she’s clearly a cancer patient; she’s bald. She’s very pale. I don’t think she hits five feet, even with her little pink sunhat perched on her bald head. She somehow reminds me of a rabbit — timid and watchful, always sniffing the wind and ready to bolt. 

Here’s what the other woman on the beltway said to her: “F&&%%CK YOU! Look what you did to my car! YOU F$@*CKING BI#%^CH! My fifty-thousand-dollar Mercedes! I’m going to get you for this, you F%&$CKING BI#%^CH! I’m going to get you!”

“She didn’t just say it once, she said it about fifty times,” said J, looking dazed. “She gave me her insurance card, but when I tried to copy it down, she snatched it back and started screaming, ‘I’m going to get you, bi*^%ch!’” Then the woman drove off.

I told J that the woman was clearly unbalanced, and to try to let it go and simply call the police to report the accident. 

“I think she had some anger issues,” ventured J. 

I Am Not Amused, God

Who would do that, God? Mentally unbalanced or not, the madwoman in the Mercedes functions well enough to have a good job and make good money. Can’t she afford a therapist? How can she walk around like that, an infected open wound gushing venom on little old ladies with cancer?

I won’t even start on mental illness, God, because you know how angry I am about that, regularly haranguing you about my brother’s descent into darkness and death. I probably sound a bit like the Mercedes Madwoman myself as I grumpily tackle the gloomy task of cleaning out his hoarder-house. But at least I’m not inflicting my temper tantrums on anyone but you.

Is There a Plan B?

What about the young woman I know who just slashed her wrists with the lid of a can? And my sweet, intelligent young friend who is stuck in a religious cult?

Why are so many people so sick? Aren’t you going to do something about this? Why are we killing each other all the time? Why did you make us like this? I know that you want us to choose differently, to be the loving and lovely people you made us to be. But we don’t seem to be doing that.

So excuse my impertinence, God, but don’t you have a Plan B? Are we *really* the hope of the world? 

Thanks for bearing with me, readers. And now for that promised redemption. Here’s Anne Lamott:

https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott/posts/524013137728334

A Bit of Fluff in Obama’s Ear

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“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”  Wise words from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Thank God the bit of fluff that’s been lodged in President Obama’s ear when it comes to Syria seems to have been dislodged, at least for the time being.

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

A cabinet meeting of Winnie-the-Pooh’s top advisors . . . might they bring some wisdom to the conundrum in Syria? (Photo:Wikipedia)

Miracles Happen

It was with a great sense of anxiety that my book group crowded onto the sofa to watch Obama’s speech on Tuesday night. Earlier, when we had been discussing an O’Henry short story, the chips and cheese had been rapidly disappearing from the bowls on the coffee table, but once Obama reached the podium, the snacking stopped and the silence fell.

Several of us had prayed and fasted through lunch the day before, along with hundreds from our church, on behalf of a peaceful solution in Syria. And it did feel like a miracle when half-way through his speech, Obama began to back away from the cliff.

My friend Shobha looked incredulous, her brown eyes wide and teary. “An answer to our prayers,” she said.

Trying to Trust

I never did trust George W. and all his war justifications. With all due respect (due being the operative word here), I think he was an idiot who was just the puppet of a bunch of neo-con war-mongers.

But I want to at least try to trust Obama; I voted for the guy. I like him personally, although I’ve been disappointed by him in many ways. I almost wanted him to persuade me of the wisdom of bombing Syria because I was so certain he was going to do it, and I didn’t want to lose all faith in his wisdom.

But I have not been persuaded; not in the least.

“Think it Over, Think it Under” (Pooh)

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, wrote on her Facebook page September 8th:

“But isn’t this one reality–that the most fastidiously trained and learned people in the government, military, humanitarian and diplomatic fields, can’t figure out the right move — reason enough to hold off bomb strikes for the time being?”

Even my very conservative neighbor Pat, with whom I rarely agree about anything except the weather, agrees on Syria. Don’t bomb. Not now. What is the hurry? Her grandson is in the Army, somewhere in the Middle East, but he can’t tell her where.

I have only one friend who supports the bombing, and he’s one of those one-issue kind of guys. Israel is his issue, and peace is not his strategy. He might feel differently when his little boy reaches military age.

Otherwise, ambivalence is the strongest support for Obama’s position that I’ve heard.

Gratitude

I plan to do some volunteering this weekend. I want to serve out of the abundance of gratitude I am feeling.

I like to think it was the people who postponed this folly. That now and then, regular folks can still make a difference. Was it the yelling of Americans who are weary of their kids being killed? Was it the yelling of citizens in our allied nations (whatever *that* means these days — someone we’re not bombing?) tired of being dragged into conflict by the U.S.? Whatever it was, it shifted Obama’s ear-fluff.

I’m sure it was a complicated bit of fluff, probably comprised of ego, politics, patriotism, compassion, anger, fear — desperation might be a better word. I’ll bet he felt trapped by his own line in the sand.

I used to have a boss who said that when he could see no solution to an office politics problem, he would “just throw a grenade and let everyone run around for a while to see what happens.” I never agreed with this approach, and I never saw it turn out well. Stupid office politics; even stupider international politics. Apologies to my male readers, but I think it had something to do with testosterone.

“I don’t see much sense in that,” said Rabbit.
“No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It’s just that something happened to it along the way.”

And so, my fellow citizens, God bless America.

God bless Syria.

And God help us all.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A related post that conveys my thoughts in a much more intelligent way:  http://woodgatesview.com/2013/09/11/on-the-anniversary-of-911-a-victory-for-clear-headed-thinking/

This is my monthly contribution to Bloggers for Peace. Bloggers, why not sign up?

A Shout Out to America’s Labor Unions!

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Labor Day always makes me sad, even though it’s the biggest party of the year in my little town. We have a parade, a carnival, a weekend-long concert, and a beauty pageant. High points for me are the funnel cake and the PTA book sale.

Still, the day signifies getting back to work, “buckling down,” as my father used to say. Even though I do not officially “work” these days, I have to go back to school. My endless summer road trips and extended stays in New Hampshire are coming to an end. Back to schedules and lists of things to do and packed calendars.

Today, though, I want to look beyond my own self-absorbed little nose and remember what Labor Day is all about.

The Sad Truth

A Risky Parade

The first Labor Day on September 5, 1882 was a risky proposition. Organized by the Central Labor Union, ten thousand men left their jobs without permission and staged a parade up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.  Peter McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, one of the early proponents of an eight-hour workday, gave a rabble-rousing speech and called on America to honor the industrial spirit with a special holiday – to give workers a day of recognition on par with religious, military, and civic holidays.

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 - February 18, ...

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 – February 18, 1906)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

McGuire said that early September was a pleasant time of year, a perfect time to “observe a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American industry.”

The marchers had a picnic and then an evening dance and fireworks. They didn’t lose their jobs, and they had so much fun that they continued the tradition for years. Finally in 1887, Oregon became the first state to establish Labor Day, and thirty other states and D.C. soon followed.

The U.S. Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday in 1894, celebrating “the joint partnership of capital and labor.” It remains a uniquely American holiday.

Thanks to Our Union Friends!

These aren’t very good days for labor unions – only about 11% of American workers are union members, down from more than 20% in 1983.

I could go off, here, ranting about the way Wal-Mart treats its workers or about the attempts to bust unions in certain states (Ohio comes to mind) or about how trade agreements can really screw American workers. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll just point out that union members have median weekly earnings of $943 — $49,036 a year –while nonunion workers make just $742 a week, or $38,584 a year.

So here’s a shout out to union members and organizers – thanks for the weekend, thanks for the eight-hour workday, thanks for overtime, thanks for vacations and paid sick leave; and thanks for parades!

A special thanks to my friend Jane Perkins who was an early pioneer in Blue-Green alliance efforts to bring environmental concerns and labor concerns together. Keep marching, girl!

Jane Perkins

Jane Perkins

And because no holiday is complete without Anne Lamott, here’s a piece she wrote about Labor Day a few years ago.

Happy Labor Day!

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