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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??

How to Blow Up a Relationship

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They say a writer’s life can be a solitary one, and it’s no wonder. Any honest writer is going to tick off or hurt friends and family eventually. I mean, our lives are peopled with priceless characters — are we not supposed to share them with the world? A writer-friend of mine has a sweatshirt emblazoned with the warning:

Be nice; you might end up in my novel.

Authors tell me that their friends always think they recognize themselves in books, regardless of whether the character or story is actually based on them. This would be especially true if, like me, you write nonfiction using real names. Hard to miss that.

The first time this issue came up for me was in one of my earliest blog posts. I wrote about my friend John, saying that his wife didn’t care much for me. I got a call from John a few days later, saying he was enjoying my blog. Crap. It hadn’t even occurred to me that he would read it.

“How did you come across my blog?” I asked.

“You sent an email about it,” he said.

“Oh, right.” What could I say?

I thought that “sorry” was a good place to start. I tried to explain that I sort of thought these things went out into the ether and only strangers read them. I hadn’t thought about our mutual friends reading them, or that my blog might affect him. John was gracious and fine with it, saying it was hardly a secret. (He and I have a long history.)

I’m more thoughtful about what I write now. For instance, I just got back from visiting my sister, who is a fascinating woman with unusual beliefs. I’d love to write about our conversations and her newest theories and interests, but she’s very private, keeps to herself, and wouldn’t appreciate it. So that’s out.

I have a friend who has essentially been brainwashed by a religious cult, but I can’t write about that, even though it’s highly unlikely she would read it because they don’t allow their converts to mess around on the web for fear that they’ll find stories from those who have escaped. But I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship or any leverage I might have to help her get back inside her real self, so that story’s out, too.

Stories about old beaus could certainly provide a lot of material, but most are now married and I wouldn’t want to upset any matrimonial apple carts. I can’t say that I care about protecting the privacy of the guys at the CIA who stuck their married hands down my blouse or up my skirt. They’re probably all divorced by now anyway. That’s why I allowed Rubber Ducky to tell all (except names).   https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/

Since my plan is to write a memoirish nonfiction book, I don’t know how I’ll navigate all this. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you deal with it? Do you have criteria or a guiding philosophy, or is it a case-by-case thing? Have you ever damaged a relationship with your writing? Have you been burned by a writer? Did your relationship survive? Should I just assume I’m going to blow up all my relationships eventually, and just get it over with?

Rear View Of Group Of Friends...

We were friends, and the warmest of friends, he and I,

Each glance was a language that broke from the heart,

No cloudlet swept over the realm of the sky,

And beneath it we swore that we never would part.”

Lennox Amott

Romping Write Through the Equinox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh crap – three strikes.

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

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

It was here somewhere…

For more on hummer migration:

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

And on the Autumnal Equinox:

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

Writers Write

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Writers Write. That’s what they all say. They get this coy little look, and then they come out with it, time and again. When you’re looking for sage wisdom from an accomplished writer, that’s what you’re going to get. Writers Write. It’s the best they can come up with. The thing is, it’s true.

That’s one of the main reasons I decided to blog, to keep myself writing. Oh, I journal everyday, some might say obsessively. But that’s for my eyes only (and, I guess, for the eyes of some unfortunate heir to my clutter). I don’t want these pages to replace my journal. God forbid I should produce yet another navel-gazing blog. But I do want to write regularly for other eyes — to get beyond whatever it is that keeps me from launching my words into the world.

I’ll spare you all the fear and self-esteem issues. Suffice to say I’m an introvert, although you wouldn’t know it from meeting me. I shy away from the competitive, who-you-know aspects of the literary world — I got enough of that as a Washington lobbyist. That’s why I escape to my farmhouse in rural New Hampshire to write. Away from my writing group, away from the readings and workshops, away from my (beloved) classmates in the Johns Hopkins writing program in D.C.

This cozy white Cape Cod was christened “Quiet Hills” by my grandmother Beedie when she bought the place in 1940. Quiet Hills is a safe, non-threatening refuge from which to launch words, and so it’s where I’m birthing this new endeavor. You’ll hear more about the house and surrounding hills and meadows, I’m sure. It seems to slip into my writing unbidden. It is a muse.

Quiet Hills

Bestselling author Dani Shapiro has escaped the frantic writing life in New York and now writes from “the top of a hill in the country.” Check out her essay on the writing life in Psychology Today. (Thanks to writer Sue Eisenfeld http://www.sueeisenfeld.com/ for sharing it.) Dani offers a lot of wisdom, although I think she’s a bit harsh on the young writing student who was excited about David Foster Wallace’s book party. Perhaps Dani’s gotten a little jaded? Anyway, her grand conclusion about the writer’s life? We write.              Here’s the link. Enjoy!

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201208/dani-shapiro-living-writers-life

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