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Ten Minute Blah-Blah

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Well, this is a really bad idea, I can tell already. If you start with the word “well,” you are already meandering. But that’s what happens when you’re doing woo-woo writing. It’s like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages,” where she tells her disciples to write every morning for thirty minutes, non-stop free-hand, in order to free up the subconscious.

That may be good therapy and it may be good exercise for the wrist, but it is surely not good form for actual writing. Nevertheless, since I had so much fun with the WordPress Daily Prompt yesterday, and since I am trying to avoid errands and chores and packing for my road trip, I decided to see what the Daily Prompt was this morning, and it’s a free-write:

“Take ten minutes — no pauses! — to write about anything, unfiltered and unedited.”

So readers, don’t blame me — this is a WordPress idea and I am just writing, writing. Though I must admit, as much as I didn’t care for morning pages (mostly because they cut into my more reflective journaling time), I do prefer Cameron’s writing by hand to typing, which I’m doing now.

I rarely draft a blog by hand unless inspiration strikes when I am on the metro or in a restaurant or something. Too much trouble — then you have to type it in, and that leads to micro-editing and pondering word choice, and that’s too many steps for something that’s by nature imperfect, unpolished. At least that’s the nature of my blogs. Good practice for overcoming perfectionism. This post in particular will not be accused of perfection.

I think it’s just dreadful how boring my brain is. I have — oh, I don’t know — forty or fifty volumes of journals dating back to 1970. I never read them, though I do intend to if I ever get off my duff and start my memoir. But if the current volumes are any indication, they are all pretty boring. Blah blah kind of stuff. Like this blog post.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

I rarely think about who might read them, which is funny, because I do tend to care too much what others think of me. But I recognize that those journals have saved my sanity and perhaps even my life: I must vent and cannot be bothered with posthumous reactions.

I’m pretty transparent anyway, there probably aren’t many surprises except to find out how obsessive I am, when to most folks I appear fairly laid back. The obsessiveness and boring patterns and repeated life mistakes are what makes the journals tiresome.

Who thinks like that? And who would encourage a blogger to dump that crap out on the page? I don’t even like to read stream-of-consciousness writing by the greats like Virginia Woolf. Why would I write it? Why would I subject you to it, dear reader? Because WordPress told me to.

You are SOOOOOO glad that ten minutes is up.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

Warning: You May Find This Disturbing

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This week I’m sharing a (very) personal essay I’ve just had published on the blog of So to Speak, a feminist journal of language and art. I’m giving you fair warning that it’s not a very pleasant story.

Secrets in the Dark

The woman has been roughed up. There’s a bruise on her cheek, and her blouse is ripped. Her long brown hair has been hacked off with a pair of scissors, and several of her teeth have just been brutally yanked out. A crowd of filthy men and women taunt her, shoving her along a darkened street. Her voice breaks into a raw, bitter wail. “There was a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft and their words inviting.”

If you’ve ever seen Les Misérables, you probably recognize this gut-wrenching scene. Fantine, a factory worker who has just lost her job, has sold her hair and teeth to pay for her young daughter’s room and board.

Anne Hathaway plays the role in the latest film version of Victor Hugo’s story of love and hate in the French Revolution. She’s painfully beautiful in this scene, bruises dark on her pale skin, eyes sunken and hopeless as she’s pressured into prostitution to save her daughter.

A French army officer has just finished doing his business on top of her. She’s belting out this song, and I can hear people all around me sniffling in the dark of the movie theater.

“I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living.

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

Even the guy behind me with the annoying belching issue seems to be crying. He starts breathing badly, and I wonder if he’s having a heart attack or something. I’m considering turning around to ask if he’s OK, but I don’t want to embarrass him if he’s crying.

His labored breathing suddenly evens out, and I hear the sound of a zipper being closed. Apparently he’s successfully put himself in the French officer’s place and has had his way with Anne Hathaway in the dark.

les-miserables-screenshot-anne-hathaway2-300x187

♦ ♦ ♦

“Why didn’t you move?” My therapist’s face had that inscrutable look she gets, and her question seemed as impenetrable as her expression.

“Move?” I echoed. “Why didn’t I move?” An irrational shame nudged a blush up my neck as I tried to remember: Did I even think of moving?

Doctor Z nodded and leaned forward in her chair, elbows perched on her knees and fingers pressed together in a teepee under her chin as if trying to keep her mouth from dropping open.

“Well, I thought about it for a minute, but — I know it sounds stupid — at first I couldn’t believe it was happening. Like, I must be wrong. Then I thought that he was obviously a mess, sick, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” I paused, and my therapist raised her eyebrows. “Wow,” I said.

“Yeah, wow,” she said.

“But I felt trapped. Moving didn’t really seem like an option.”

“Why don’t you journal about this? Writing always helps you. I’ve heard you use those words before, feeling trapped, not trusting your own experience, not being able to take care of yourself because you were worried how it might make someone else feel.”

Doctor Z pulled some papers out of her black bag, the signal that our time was up. I wrote her a check and drove home with only half my mind on the road. “Why didn’t I move?” I kept hearing the question.

♦ ♦ ♦

Journal entry:

Tough therapy session. Why didn’t I move away from that guy in the theater? Why did I feel so powerless? The other thing I can’t figure out is why I was afraid to tell anyone, even my friends. Like I had done something wrong, or the whole thing was so disgusting and ugly that I had to hold it in, protect the world from it. Not pollute other people’s lives with my pain. Just like when I was a kid. Don’t tell anyone what’s going on in the house; don’t tell the neighbors about Daddy passing out. Put the vodka bottles at the bottom of the trash bag. It’s all a secret I have to keep. What a burden for a little girl!

My mom. The queen of denial. She’s the one who taught me how to keep a secret. When she caught me on the couch with my ninth-grade boyfriend’s hand down my pants, she said, “I know I didn’t see what I just saw,” and she never said another word about it. Mom didn’t even want to tell the doctor that Daddy was an alcoholic when he was lying on life support in the hospital! As if they couldn’t tell. I broke the secrecy code and told the nurse our shameful secret. Daddy died anyway.

Now that I think of it, Mom’s was the voice in my head at the movie theater saying, “That couldn’t have happened. I must be wrong.”

♦ ♦ ♦

“Good work,” said Doctor Z when I finished reading my journal entry. “What else?”

“Well, I guess my family was so focused on our shame and secrecy that what I needed didn’t matter much. It’s like I learned that I’m not worth taking care of — I don’t believe I have any rights. Mom never took care of her own needs either — trying not to upset my father always came first. That’s why I was more worried about how that guy might feel if I moved than I was about my own feelings.”

I picked up the cushion on the sofa and began messing with the stitching. “Have I ever told you about when I lost my virginity?” I asked, though I knew I hadn’t. It all came out in a rush. “I was sixteen and I was at a party in an upstairs room with an older guy, kind of a friend. We were messing around and he got really aggressive. I said no to him, told him to stop. I said I didn’t want to, but he went ahead and I thought, ‘Oh well.’ I wanted him to like me, and I guess I figured it wouldn’t be worth the fight. I’ve always felt ashamed of that.”

There was a silence while we sat with my shame and I continued to unravel her cushion.

“You were sixteen, Melanie. Just sixteen.”

“Yes.” More silence. I couldn’t look at her.

“You’re an adult now. You can take care of yourself. You don’t have to be a victim . . . you have choices.”

“Yes, I have choices.” I did not sound like an adult. I sounded like a little girl parroting her mother’s directions. I waited for further instruction.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Doctor Z reminded me, as she often must.

I exhaled a laugh, set the cushion down, and looked her in the face. “Yes, I do have choices.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Journal Entry:

I am going back to the theater tonight. It’s been nearly two months since Les Mis, and I was telling Dr. Z how mad I was at that asshole cause I felt like he had stolen my theater from me. I usually go every week, but the thought’s been making me nauseated.  “I can’t imagine sitting in that seat again,” I told her.

“Well,” she said, “you could sit in a different seat.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, laughing at this obvious solution. “I have choices.”

So I’ve been planning on choosing a new seat. But that’s still making me mad. He stole my spot and I feel l like a victim. So I think I’ll march right down that aisle and sit in my regular seat, twelve rows back on the left. If somebody sits behind me, I can always move.

………

You can visit the So to Speak journal here.

 

Halloween Art — Or Not.

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I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers pay no attention to the cardinal rule of blogging, so I’m not going to either. It’s Monday; it’s the day I blog, cardinal rule or no. The cardinal rule is this: do not blog when you’ve got nothing to say. It’s disrespectful of your readers, and it may even be a good way to lose a few of them. But . . . 

I got nothin’. Nothin’.

Just because it’s Monday doesn’t mean I got somethin’.

Even worse than babbling when you have nothing to say is starting your blog with a lame teaser, like say, mentioning a cardinal rule of blogging that makes everyone curious about what that might be . . .  when actually, all you are going to say is nothin’.

Blackjack Poetry

I joined a poet’s group this month: Blackjack Poets. You do three stanzas of seven syllables. For twenty-one. That’s it. That’s somethin’, though, right?

So here are a couple of somethin’s of twenty-one syllables but not much else. Sorry.

‡ I’m not a rhymer, per se,

but sometimes — on a good day —

you may find I am OK.

‡ The neighbor’s cat crossed the line

when he ate my jasmine vine

and sought wrens on which to dine.

‡ Writing to write is not right.

I write to express myself.

I am blank, so I’ll shut up.

As a bonus for putting up with me, here’s a picture of me getting a pumpkin painted on my face. Hey, I told you I had nothin’. Happy Halloween!

harvest festival 2013 009.b

Who’s Your Best Friend?

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This is a special day, but not for the reasons I thought it would be.

Today my blog is one year old. I have drafted a half-dozen anniversary posts, but I’m going to trash them. They aren’t very interesting. I haven’t the time to navel-gaze right now (a collective sigh of relief from my readers) because I’m celebrating a bigger anniversary: fifty-five years with my oldest and best buddy, Elaine.

We became next door neighbors when we were three. We’ve traveled together from kindergarten through high school graduation and far beyond. I’m godmother to her first son, and I was Maid of Honor at her wedding . . . both times.

Hanging Out

Elaine has come to stay at my New Hampshire retreat. She used to spend a month here each summer, but hasn’t visited in forty-plus years, so we’re having a blast visiting old haunts and discovering new ones.

We’ve been blueberry picking and hiking and “thrashing in the kitchen,” as she calls our culinary efforts. We eat too much cheese, drink too much local mead, and stay up too late.

We watched the outstandingly bad 1972 “amphibious horror flick,” Frogs and then we watched Thelma and Louise.

Look closely — Elaine’s lurking in the blueberry bushes:

Lost in the Blueberry Fields

Becoming One with the Blueberry Bushes

We’ve been playing one of our favorite games, World Famous Nature Photographer:

newts nh 012

Stalking Killer Ferns

In the mornings, I work on my thesis and she works on her children’s story. In the afternoons, she does some serious work while I supervise. (Hey, my ribs are busted!)

Elaine Tackles the Apple Tree

Elaine Tackles the Apple Tree

Yesterday we visited Willa Cather’s grave, one of my holy sites, and then wandered around an interfaith peace garden called Cathedral of the Pines before taking in an outdoor classical music concert and a fireworks show in the shadow of Mount Monadnock.

That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.

That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.

I hope you have a friend like Elaine.

If you do, please honor them in my comment section!

Thank You!!

A big “thank you” to those of you who have followed my blogging adventure over the past year, especially those folks who were companions before my big Freshly Pressed moment in the sun.

Blessings!

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:

How to Find Me

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“Really? Really?” I’m sure my voice is squeaking. I feel like a wriggling four-year-old watching Mom hang my muddled finger-painting on the frig.

This is my response every time one of my neighbors or someone from church or school says, “Hey, I’m enjoying your blog.” It’s always such a surprise. Writing these posts is even more fun than finger-painting, and the idea that someone may actually be reading them is just icing on the cake.

I see the daily stats on the number of views, but somehow I’m still delighted every time I discover that my late night emoting/ranting is reaching somebody “out there.”

By the way, I’m sorry for all the recent ranting about climate change. It’s not premeditated, it’s just that with the election and the hurricane, it’s hard not to say, fairly frequently and in largish print:

“Isn’t anybody paying attention??”

But I digress. It’s not as if it’s the future of the planet or anything.

Back on point: I’ve been curious about how people find my blog. It’s clear that most of my referrals come from Facebook, and a few come from Linkedin (those people are far more “professional” than Facebookers and probably have little time for such frivolity). Some viewers find me through the brilliant and insightful comments I’ve made on other WordPress blogs. An author friend of mine linked to a sort-of book review I wrote about his new book, and that has brought several dozen onlookers.

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

FB and LinkedIn Images via CrunchBase

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

It’s intriguing to keep track of the many countries represented in my stats – close to fifty – and I can’t for the life of me figure out what drives that. When I did a piece on sexual harrasment at the CIA, I could understand why I got a lot of visitors from other countries, but otherwise, it seems fairly random. One post will get one or two from the UK or Canada, and the next will get visitors from thirteen different countries. Why?

Most interesting to me are the search engines. The Mysterious Google. I know people spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out how that Google search function works, and how to rank higher in the searches.

For what it’s worth, someone searched for “Romney Silhouette Pictures” and landed on my blog because I mentioned Romney in a climate change rant, and I had also done a WordPress photo challenge entitled “Silhouette.” Probably not exactly what they were looking for.

Another person searched for “Scarlet Letter” and ended up in a post about shame (in which I happened to mention the Scarlet Letter.)

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/what-color-is-shame/

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Weirdest of all, and something which took a while to figure out, was that someone searched for “hemorrhoid relief” and ended up here. And then I remembered an early post I had done after paying the price of sitting on a bee. I wrote of standing in the kitchen “smearing baking soda paste on my posterior.”

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/on-pollinators-pain-gay-guys-and-gratitude/

I just need to apologize to that unfortunate reader who was, through no fault of their own, subjected to that image.  I mean, really, you’ve got enough problems with the hemorrhoids and all.

None of this helps to figure out the Google search function, I’m sure, but I find it interesting to ponder.

Who knows, maybe with several uses of the word, “hemorrhoid” in this post, my blog will become the new hotspot (so to speak) for hemorrhoid sufferers? I’d better read up on that. For now, my only advice is

do not to sit on bees,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   and of course:

Birthing a Blog

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Birthdays are a time to reflect and take stock of where we are. For a two-month old, that wouldn’t normally entail much. But after traveling to forty-four different countries and being ogled almost two thousand times, my baby blog is no neophyte.

Hence, a moment of reflection on Writing with Spirit’s two-month birthday.

birthday cake large

First of all, thank you so much for reading, or even just for scanning, or glancing at my photos. Special gratitude to my forty-five “followers” (such an ostentatious phrase). I can’t tell you how much that means to someone who still doesn’t feel comfortable being labeled “a writer.” I’m sure some of you bloggers can relate.

Yesterday, I had a writerly moment. Unusually enough, an actual editor was waiting for one of my essays. I was ransacking my house looking for some lost interview notes I needed to revise the piece, when I remembered that I still had a tape recording of the interview.

Phew!

I unearthed the recorder, pressed play, and … nothing. The whole thing had been erased. This is not supposed to be possible, as in order to erase a file, you must provide two forms of ID, and then press three buttons simultaneously while reciting your social security number backwards in Swahili. Then the little screen says, “Are you sure you want to do this?” You say yes, and it says, “Really?” and you scream YES, DAMN IT, YES, YES, YES!!  So after my technology had betrayed me without so much as a PIN number, I was tossing papers into the air and cursing and even crying a few tears of frustration, when I suddenly stopped and thought –

Wow, I am a writer.

I don’t know why being thoroughly disorganized and panic-stricken matched my image of a writer, but there you have it. To complete the picture, I probably should have knocked back a tumbler of bourbon, neat.

I winged it and got the essay into the magazine editor. Nothing left but to wait for the rejection. (Even at my tender writing age, I’ve learned to be a cynic.)

All this to say that I think I’ve written more regularly in the past two months than I have since I started my writing career at Johns Hopkins University three years ago. A blog is great discipline. There’s accountability, even if it’s mostly in my head.

I’ve learned to observe more and to listen better, and life seems more interesting when I anticipate that I’ll be creating something fun out of it. Colors are more vivid, jokes are funnier, politicians are even more absurd.

The WordPress Photo Challenges were a wonderful surprise. I have thousands of fabulous pictures that I never share with anyone, and I’ve so enjoyed the challenges and the diverse group of people who “like” my photomontages. Even real photographers! I’ve tried mixing a little poetry with the pictures, which is new for me.

Another fun discovery has been all the good writing floating around in the blogosphere. I simply had not surfed around much before I started my blog.Wonderful fiction, poetry, writing advice, and travel adventures! Kudos, bloggers!

I am a Cat Person

I have, until now, resisted putting in a picture of my cat. But now that we’ve known each other for two months, it’s time. Isn’t she just the cutest?

Eliza Bean

Sorry.

On a more serious note, authenticity being good for the soul, I have shared some traumatic truths about sexual harassment and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/hey-girl-youre-bald/

I’ve talked about life and death and politics and a way more eclectic collection of topics than I had planned on, from God to climate change to Henry James.

As I dimly recall, this blog was supposed to be primarily about spiritual and emotional de-cluttering. https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/emotional-house-cleaning/

Who knew how many synapses and leaps across random neural pathways that would involve?

Thanks for being along on the journey. And thanks for coming to the birthday party.

Tell me, WordPress compatriots: what have you learned since your blog was birthed??

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