Poem: An Empty Bookstore

I know how lucky I am. I get to go into a bookstore every single day. In these coronavirus days, that’s something special. Admittedly, I know this time is a setback. I certainly never imagined I would end up closing down for weeks and possibly months this soon after becoming the owner of a bookstore. But life’s lemons make sweet lemonade if you know the recipe, and for me, that recipe includes a lot of books and time.

Today, I will go back to the bookstore. I will sit behind my desk and do paperwork and hope the phone will ring. I will spend some time dusting and rearranging shelves. And I will spend some time just sitting silently. But I won’t be alone.

An Empty Bookstore

By Michelle Garren Flye

An empty bookstore is still quite full.

Just sit silent and listen for a minute.

You’ll find the characters of another soul

Acting stories for your entertainment.

Look there! It’s Hazel from Watership Down!

He’d best watch out, McGregor’s not picky—

Peter Rabbit escaped and ran into town,

And farmers say all pesky rabbits are tricky.

In a quiet corner, the Little Women gather.

Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth dream dreams of future days.

I wonder what they’d think of today, whether

Marmee would approve of our wayward ways?

Curious George flies a kite with Paddington Bear,

Ignoring Jekyll’s Hyde lurking in the shadows.

Scarlett O’Hara ponders which dress to wear

While Atticus Finch seeks to deal legal blows.

Over yonder lies Dracula’s coffin in state

And don’t forget to check in on Miss Havisham.

Now that you’re ready to flee, just wait—

Anne Shirley is here with green egg’s Sam.

The longer you sit quiet in this empty place

The more peopled you’ll find it is in the end.

You know, you can do the same in your own space?

Books are all you need to make a friend.

Who says life finds a way? This flower.

What lesson can we learn from this little flower? Everything important. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I took this picture this morning. Dogwoods are blooming in North Carolina. I’ve been photographing them ever since they started peeking out a week or so ago. But this particular bloom intrigued me. Why?

Because it’s blooming on a broken branch.

The branch was half severed during a storm in the late summer/early fall. It never died, though. The leaves stayed green until they reddened to brown in the fall. I’ve been watching this branch since then, waiting for spring and wondering if it would bloom like the rest of the tree.

It is. Blooming. A little stunted, a little slower, but blooming nonetheless. Partially severed from the rest of the tree, this little blossom is still struggling for survival. It has a message of beauty and purpose to spread to us. No doubt this flower would prefer to still be on a limb that is fully attached to the tree it comes from, but it’s taking what’s been given and going with it.

It occurred to me that this flower is much like us right now. Do we wish we weren’t stuck in isolation? Would we prefer to be able to go to dinner and movies and parties like normal? (Okay, the parties thing is not me, but I understand I’m less social than the normal human being.) It would definitely be nice to go out shopping without wondering if this is the time we pick up the COVID-19 virus and bring it home to our families.

Yeah, we’re all blooming on our own broken branches right now. But we’re blooming, nonetheless. We’re helping each other and spending time with family members that maybe had been a little neglected, tending to gardens and cleaning our homes. Our children are still learning from teachers who are overcoming what would once have been insurmountable obstacles to teaching.

Life is going on. To quote Jeff Goldblum (and either Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg?), “Life finds a way.” We are alive. We are finding a way to live.

Poem: What’s Fifty? (Happy birthday to me)

Happy Birthday to me.

I won’t lie, it’s difficult celebrating today. But it’s also sort of necessary, isn’t it? I mean, every year on this day, I look at the flowers blooming and think, I hope I’m here one more year to see this. So, no matter what the next year brings, I celebrate last year and say goodbye to it. It’s time to turn to what’s coming with gratitude for what came before.

What’s Fifty?

By Michelle Garren Flye

It’s not so important, this birthday of mine.

I’ll toast and forget it with a little red wine.

What’s fifty, after all, but a number of sorts?

It’s not like it comes with big lumpy warts.

I’m not really any older than I was yesterday—

I’ll still skip and holler in the midst of the fray.

If you think about it, each day leaves us a bit worn,

And it starts from the very hour we are born.

What’s fifty after all, but the next logical step?

Each year, just a memory, so carefully kept.

We build our remembrances up until the end,

And hope time’s passage brings us another friend.

What’s fifty? I yell to the rest of the world.

I’m nothing without age…let the years unfurl!

It’s not like it’s something we’d want to avoid.

If we try to, our hopes will just be destroyed.

What’s fifty? A point on a timeline, if you would.

Just you wait, this year I’ll make fifty look good.

Just the next step

The local author “cove” of my bookstore, The Next Chapter Books & Art. Yes, my books are on the shelf!

“I guess I should have expected it,” my husband teased when I said I wanted to take over the local bookstore. “I mean, first you’re a published author, then you start self-publishing, and now you want to own a bookstore.”

I laughed. But really, is he totally wrong?

I want to sell my books.

I told a fellow author who stopped by the store to wish me well that the other day. “I want to sell books. My books, your books, whatever.” And it’s true. That’s what I want to do as a bookstore. Highlight and sell local authors’ books. Because there’s a surprising number of us here in my little town who can spin a pretty good yarn.

My friend, who has several books at the store himself, smiled. “True. But you want to sell your books most. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

And he’s right, too. I do want to sell my books. Most. So I’m owning it. It occurred to me when I heard that the bookstore was going to close if someone didn’t take over that my books wouldn’t have a spot on a bookstore shelf anymore. I’d have to go looking for more stores willing to take them on.

As I don’t like beating the pavement, maybe it was just easier to take on a bookstore and learn to be a small business owner and pay bills and create a marketing plan and write press releases and be a grownup?

Maybe there’s something slippery about that slope, but it does seem to be working, and I can’t deny taking over this bookstore has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I look forward to going in to work every day, I work on bookstore ideas at night, the store is my favorite subject—when I started considering setting a picture of the store as my background on my phone, I had to admit, I might be in love.

Everyday it seems a little stronger,

Everyday it lasts a little longer.

Come what may, do you ever long for

True love from me?

—James Taylor, Everyday

So I guess it’s okay if I’ve taken another step along the road of self-publishing. Yeah, I want my books on the shelf, not just here but in bookstores everywhere, but until that happens and as long as the only reason I’m here is not to sell my books only (just most), I’ll do my damnedest to keep this beautiful store open and selling all the books, including mine.

PC: Politely Considerate; A study of two viewpoints

I read two editorials in The Washington Post this morning. One was about the Republican Party, the other about J.K. Rowling. Two diametrically opposed subjects that somehow made me think about the same thing.

In his article, Wake up Republicans. Your party stands for all the wrong things now., Stuart Stevens says Republicans have become a party of white grievance in the midst of a population of diverse “immigrants and multiculturalism” by labeling kindness and compassion with a somehow evil label of “PC”. He’s not wrong. I’ve felt this way myself. Political correctness is not evil. It is thinking of others before shooting your mouth off. But this got me thinking about the many times I’ve been browbeat as “part of the problem” by my fellow liberals. Sometimes I’m not PC enough, evidently, to really be considered a liberal. Which I admit. I’m a fifty-year-old, born-and-raised-in-the-South, white lady. What do you expect?

And still, I try.

In her article, Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture?, Megan McArdle muses about the intriguing J.K. Rowling case, in which the hugely successful, Trump-hating, liberal author dared to support a woman who said binary sex is a biological fact that cannot be denied, not because she thought the woman was right, but because Rowling believed the woman had a right to her opinion. And the mob swarmed, according to McArdle, but Rowling has yet to acknowledge any wrongdoing. She has not deleted her tweet, she has not scheduled any conferences with groups who could educate her as to why she was wrong, and she has not apologized. Instead, Rowling is ignoring the would-be mob, letting her reputation stand for itself.

I mean, yeah, but damn. That takes courage.

These two articles got me thinking about what troubles me about left-wing liberals. They’ve taken the whole PC thing to a militant level. If you don’t watch every hand gesture, every word, every joke, every casual remark or tweet, you are “part of the problem.” You must stay well to the left of the white line and tread carefully lest you wander into the middle of the road. Because to those on the far left, there is no common ground. But if all the left stands for is being PC police, then we are in as much danger as the Republican party right now. As Stevens says, “Republicans now partly define their party simply as an alternative to that other party, as in, ‘I’m a Republican because I’m not a Democrat.'”

“You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” —Aaron Tippin

Yet, as McArdle says, “we fret about the opinions of officious strangers, possibly thousands of miles away, who swarm social media like deranged starlings…” In other words, instead of forming our own opinions based on our own beliefs, we let others mandate them for us. McArdle does attribute this behavior to both the left and the right (the left being the offender in the case of Rowling), but in my mind, the left is becoming exceptionally less accepting of other opinions, and that is dangerous. If we are to be the party of acceptance and tolerance, we must learn to accept and tolerate a multitude of ideas without attempting to summarily cancel them.

In the end, if we hear out the opinions of those who disagree with us, we can choose whether or not to accept them into our beliefs. Yes, be polite and considerate—in fact, that is what PC should stand for—to all. Even those who disagree with you. Accept into your own heart what you believe is right. Blow the rest away like unimportant dandelion fluff.

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Yes, I did write that last line so I could use this picture.  Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Dear Millenials: It’s okay to have high hopes. Love, Gen X

Yeah, I said it. Before you go making fun of Generation X’s “High Hopes” dance, take a few notes from your elders. (And maybe read the lyrics of that song, too. It is the Generation X anthem.)

I have not yet decided which Democrat I will vote for in the primary election. I like different aspects of several of them. I wish I could combine all these different aspects into one Super Candidate. Lacking that, I wish that all of the other candidates would get behind one candidate in a kind of Super Coalition and promise to help that person defeat the Great Evil, Donald Trump.

I have High Hopes.

You gotta have High Hopes.

Truth is, I started out my adult life with High Hopes. My generation, who hadn’t yet been disregarded as Generation X—not Boomers or Millenials or even The Silent Generation, but evidently not even worthy of a name—at any rate, my generation was the first to realize we needed to recycle. I remember how proud I was to cart my little blue bin from the apartment I shared with my husband while he was in medical school to the larger blue bins labeled by colors of glass, newspaper or aluminum cans. I was making a difference.

I had High Hopes.

Not many dimes, though. I worked for a tiny newspaper an hour away, covering local news in a town I didn’t live in but grew to care about. I covered politics, police reports, wrote features about interesting folks, even tried my hand at writing about sports (baseball was my favorite, basketball a close second, football killed me).

I was going to make it big at the little newspaper and catch the eye of the bigger ones. I pictured myself eventually writing something that caught the attention of Rolling Stone. It could happen. After a couple of years of it not happening (and late nights at the paper keeping me from my new husband), however, I was tired of commuting. Burning your biography and rewriting your history isn’t all that easy after all. A job at the library of the medical school attracted me, just as jobs at libraries always had. I went back to my roots.

But I still had High Hopes.

Twenty-some years later, I still have high hopes. I still write, and it’s not all romance or kid stuff. I write about my politics and my beliefs and just my thoughts, not because I hope Rolling Stone will take note, but because I know words have a way of getting out there. Sometimes in an article like this one.

Maybe my generation hasn’t changed things. Maybe we aren’t the ones who will save the world. But we have the influence and the power to effect change when we find the one (or ones) who will. We’ve got one more run in us, and it’s going to be a sight to see.

We want everything.

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The sun has not yet set on Generation X. We still want it all.

Reflections on the darkest day of the year

Juneau moonlight

Happy darkest day of the year

Today is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and, in my mind, the day of change. Hopefully for the better. Last year on this day, I got the idea to write children’s books. This year, I’ve written two. Jessica Entirely and Jessica Naturally, the first two books of my Jessica series, are now published and being consumed. Of course, to do that, I had to create a new identity as my romances are definitely not for kids. Thus was born Shelley Gee.

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I have also written a good bit of poetry this year. I like that. I published my first poetry booklet, Times and Ties, which I dedicated to a friend who passed away unexpectedly and tragically. I still miss you, Pam. You were a staunch supporter of my writing, especially my poetry. (By the way, I’m working on getting this booklet online. For now, it’s only available for purchase at our local small bookstore, The Next Chapter Books and Art.

For Pam

By Michelle

 

Oh my brain just couldn’t comprehend

But my treacherous heart heard the news

And held it close and took it in

 

Oh today is gray because you’ve left

Taking your light and helpful spirit

And you won’t be coming around

 

And oh my heart keeps reminding me

You’re gone.

 

Oh my friend what you’ve left behind

Has more value than words can say

More than most with twice the time

 

Oh the legacy of a loving life

The warm work of hands that care

Reminds us we’ll see the sun shine

 

But oh my heart keeps telling me

You’re gone.

 

Last year, I also took about six months of singing lessons, landed a spot in the choir for our local theatre’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and accepted a spot on the board of our other local theatre. So I’m exploring a whole new arena of storytelling.

What will this next year hold for me? Well, I took a bit of a break from my romances in order to accomplish all this, and I’m eager to get back to it. Magic at Sea is calling me. I plan to answer that call today. After all, what better way to celebrate the return of light to the world than by writing about love? Beyond that? I know I’ll be writing more about little Jessica. I hope to be in more theatre and I know I’ll be behind the scenes for more. Tonight, I’ll light a fire and a few candles and think hard about how to make it all happen.

What about you? What will the light bring you?

For more ideas about how to celebrate the winter solstice, check out this website: https://rhythmsofplay.com/ways-to-celebrate-the-winter-solstice-2/

Also, my book Winter Solstice is still available from Lyrical Press:

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