DNA and our hunt for a more colorful origin story

person with body painting

Origin stories aren’t always as colorful as we could wish. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Every fan of superheroes knows what an origin story is. Every birthday, we celebrate our origin stories. I tell my kids about the day they were born. How I was feeling, how I knew when it was time to go to the hospital, how long I waited there. What the weather was like. How it felt to hold them for the first time. That’s their origin story.

But recently, science—possibly junk science, depending on who you listen to—has made it possible to find out a bit more about your origin story. And which one of us doesn’t hope we can add a little to our origin story by exploring this avenue?

A little color.

Like many others, I have always been told there is Cherokee blood in my ancestry. I remember visiting Cherokee, N.C., as a child. We have pictures somewhere of Native Americans (we called them Indians back then) in full tribal headdress. My mother bought me a little doll from one of the gift shops. A little girl in a fringed leather dress with a feather in her black braids. I loved that doll. I dreamed about one day being a part of that all-too-colorful heritage (if you go back to Cherokee now, you’ll find a much more down-to-earth and realistic celebration of a wonderful civilization). The Tsalagi (Cherokee, originally Aniyunwiya) of North Carolina are the remainder of the proud nation who were forced West on the Trail of Tears by white men, the ones who clung to their traditions and the little bit of land they could lawfully acquire while their families and neighbors were forced on a journey many of them didn’t make it through.

Colorful, tragic, and beautiful. I always wanted it to be true that there was Cherokee blood in my veins because surely it ran a deeper vermillion than the European blood I knew was there.

And yet, when I had my DNA ancestry tested, I came up just about as lily white as can be. 71% England, Wales (this is vaguely interesting) and Northwestern Europe, 27% Ireland and Scotland, and 2% Sweden. Not unexpected at all, but it might have been nice to find something more exotic in my DNA.

I’ve accepted this lily whiteness and the blood that my ancestors have left on my hands. I belong to the most brutal of all races. White Europeans. The ones who destroyed the peaceful civilizations they found in North America and enslaved Africans to work they land they stole.

I saw in today’s news that Elizabeth Warren is being criticized for publicizing the DNA results which showed she has some portion of Native American ancestry in her origin story. Republicans don’t believe her, Native Americans say it’s problematic that she is claiming this ancestry and, hey, why the heck has she not been advocating for Native Americans all along if she wants to believe she’s one of them?

The answer is, I believe, a fairly simple one. All us white folks want to believe we’ve got something special about us. Some of us know we belong to a brutal race and wish we could be one of those our ancestors tortured to ease our guilt. That group includes me and Senator Warren. You’ve got nothing really to fear from us because we see a nobility in your suffering and perseverance. But the others of us want to believe their race is lily white because it’s superior. They won out over all other races not through brutality but because they were chosen. Those are the ones we should all fear.

Poem: “What Good Will It Do?”

In today’s news, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist, disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. It is now reported that he was killed for the stories he routinely wrote criticizing his home country’s government. When it was proposed to President Donald Trump that the United States should cease selling weapons to the Saudi Arabian government, the leader of the free world responded, “What good will that do us?”

My answer? We would no longer be accepting blood money from a repressive regime. We would no longer be upholding a bully. We would no longer be endorsing their human rights violations. 

We would no longer be guilty by association. 

What Good Will It Do?

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

What good will it do?

Sticking your neck out,

Standing up to a bully,

Being courageous.

What good does it do me?

If I refuse to befriend the “strong”

That will make me weak.

 

What good will it do?

Who says I have to help

When others are down?

Got my own life to live.

What benefit is there?

Right and wrong don’t mean

A thing when you’re on top.

 

It’ll do me no good

To give you a handout.

Sure it’s tough all over.

Get a grip on yourself.

There’s nothing in it for me.

Helping others is just a game

Invented by bleeding hearts.

 

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.” –President John F. Kennedy

 

 

Jesus walked into the Supreme Court

Jesus Walked Into the Supreme Court

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Jesus walked into the Supreme Court. Today was the day the latest justice would be confirmed, and He felt sure this was where he needed to be. All eight current justices were dressed in black, their robes and faces matching in their sobriety.

“Surely today is a good day,” said Jesus to one, a black man with a reflective look in his eyes.

“Not today.” The black man shook his head. “Today, we confirm that we never learned anything.” He looked at Jesus sadly, and Jesus knew what this man’s thoughts were. That he hadn’t always been a good man. That he had made others uncomfortable, had even laughed at them. But this man had worked hard for many years to live down his faults. Now, faced by one who had done worse, he felt the weight of his sins again.

Jesus placed a hand on the black man’s. “The days will be better. Some day.”

The black man smiled but he turned away. Jesus looked at another man, a man with silver hair. He was the last justice to be appointed to this court. He wasn’t a bad man, either. He had strong opinions and beliefs and they sometimes colored his judgments, but he tried hard. He looked at Jesus. “What are you doing here?” he said. “There’s not much you can do here today.”

“I can’t do much here any day.” Jesus sat next to the man. “That’s up to you.”

The silver haired man nodded and looked at his hands as if he wished he could find answers there. The others seemed not to know Jesus was there. All but one, an old woman with deep hollows in her cheeks and dark circles under her eyes. She looked at Jesus with caution. “You’re not here to take me, are you?”

“Not yet.” Jesus patted the bench beside Him. “I think you have work to do yet.”

The old woman sat down and crossed her wrinkled, old hands in her lap. “For once,” she said, “you and I agree.”

New look for a new kind of romance

Everywhere I go now I’m touting my “new kind of romance”, so I thought it fitting that my blog should have a new look. So here it is, complete with a red rose background.

Next month I’ll be attending Mumfest in my adopted home town of New Bern. I’ll be selling my independently published books and giving away a few advance copies of Dickens Magic, which won’t be available until October 31, as well as a complete set of my Sleight of Hand series. I’m super excited about this, and I hope I’ll get to meet a lot of potential readers who are interested in my work.

For those who don’t know, New Bern suffered a great deal of damage during Hurricane Florence. The downtown area, where Mumfest will be held, was particularly hard hit as it is located at the junction of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. Many businesses were flooded, homes were lost. And yet no one has suggested that Mumfest should not happen. And so, on the fourth weekend post-Florence, our downtown streets will be crowded with booths of arts and crafts, food vendors, local businesses and non-profits. Flowers will brighten the corners which not long ago were occupied by storm debris.

And I will be there. I don’t yet know if I’ll be able to sell folks on my new kind of romance idea. I hope so. I truly believe what we read makes a difference. In the same way that what we eat affects our bodies, what we consume through books and other media affects our minds. If it’s good, wholesome and nutritious, so will our minds and hearts be. And good, wholesome and nutritious in the case of romance, does not have to mean not sexy.

I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from Dickens Magic, which takes place entirely in downtown New Bern at the historic Masonic Theatre I have come to love. I think this excerpt, which is from the POV of Alex, the hero, sums up a bit of what I feel about this town:

Alex walked without paying much attention to where he was going. He knew the way pretty damn well, after all. Every crack in the sidewalk, every storefront, every red light and stop sign was ingrained on his heart like a map of his very existence. He’d never felt that with New York, not even Broadway. Broadway was where he worked and his apartment in Manhattan was where he stayed.

New Bern was where he lived.

He paused at a corner. He stood directly in front of the old fire station, now a museum. If he looked right, he would almost see the old theater. It was just two blocks down, set back from the road with an unevenly paved parking lot in front, the crumbling façade of the building adorned with a poster of the theater’s latest production. What was it? Chicago? He’d read the review of it to his mother last week. He’d said maybe he’d take her.

Of course, that probably wouldn’t happen. He knew that.

A trolley passed in front of him and he caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection in one of the windows. Unshaven, his clothes a little more rumpled than he usually allowed them to be, his hair a little longer than he was usually comfortable with. And a worried look that wouldn’t be banished.

I hope you’ll come visit this town I’ve grown to love so much. New Bern got knocked down, it’s true, but she’s getting back up with the grace and dignity you’d expect of a 300+ year old dame. She’s strong. #NewBernStrong

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A view of the Trent River from my back deck.

 

Nice job, #NewBernStrong…but. (A hurrication in pictures)

I’m back from my hurrication (evacuation due to Hurricane Florence for those who don’t know) and I’m thinking. A lot.

Florence clouds

We left town as the clouds of Florence began to blanket Eastern North Carolina.

First, leaving was tough. I’ve written about being away and not knowing what was happening, and then hearing my hometown’s name on the lips of every journalist on the television for forty-eight hours. I heard from friends whose homes were flooded, some with them still inside. This was while the storm was still ongoing. Later, I heard of homes and belongings washed away, dreams broken, families uprooted… Then came the stories of the heroes. Those who went out in boats to help, those who worked tireless hours to help the ones who lost so much, those with power who took others in, meals made and delivered, pets rescued, the long, hard job of drying off and recovering finally beginning.

Mari

Traveling with the animals was a new experience for us. Two cats, two dogs and a bearded dragon had to be evacuated too!

Wow. What an amazing community I live in! I am so proud of these people. I want to be a part of it, to help those in need, too.

But.

Charlotte cat

Not one of the cats we evacuated with, and he didn’t really appreciate seeing our cats inside…

Now that I am home I can see the truckloads of supplies being brought in, the homeless sheltered, the hungry fed. As I throw out the spoiled food from my own refrigerator, I think about how so many of those homeless and hungry have probably been homeless and hungry for a long, long time before Florence paid us a visit. They’ve been invisible in my community until the winds of Florence blew them out into the open.

This is obviously a country of plenty. A land of too much if you judge by the amount of food that was thrown out from the powerless houses. Why is it that the plenty is only shared at times of crisis?

Pumpkin truck

Traffic returning to New Bern meant being stuck behind this pumpkin truck for an hour in Raleigh.

Yes, my neighbors are amazing. Yes, the federal government was generous in its response. FEMA is here, taking care of those who lost homes and belongings. POTUS even visited and passed out hot dogs and thanked volunteers. Bottled water and food, batteries and an army of power trucks to restore the lost power have alleviated much suffering during this time. I’m sure those who needed it are grateful. I am grateful.

Driveway

The worst of our damage was downed trees. This one, now that my husband has cleared the drive underneath, forms a kind of natural arch for us to drive under.

But. But what happens when the trucks are gone, when we all go back to our daily activities and forget about volunteering? What happens to those who have needed help all along and always will? Can we stay #NewBernStrong for our community?

Staying #NewBernStrong in Exile

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Better days.

I haven’t updated this blog in almost a week. And the past two weeks have been the most emotionally tumultuous I’ve ever experienced.

During these two weeks, we’ve prepared for what looked to be a historic storm. We took all the accumulated junk from outside and got it inside our house or tied down somewhere on the exterior. Lawnmowers, barbecue grills, trash cans, outdoor furniture—our outdoor furniture is now in our downstairs, cobwebs and all.

While my husband and son concentrated on that, I tried to figure out what was most precious to me. What couldn’t be replaced if we left and our house was flooded or the roof ripped off. If you’ve never had to do this, it’s emotionally exhausting. Because nothing you own can ever really be replaced. The sofa the cats clawed, the coffee table the kids ruined by never using coasters, the half-broken rocking chair you nursed your daughter in when she came home from the hospital eleven years ago—you can get newer and better and less broken, but you have these things still because you actually love your animals and your kids and the memories make the faults more beautiful.

We wound up packing our kids, our dogs, our cats, our bearded dragon, some photo albums, my mother’s charm bracelet, a necklace and earrings my son saved up to give me for my birthday when he was ten and a few other odds and ends into our two cars, finally, and trekking to an Airbnb in Charlotte. And then the anxious waiting began.

In the midst of it, I found I couldn’t even finish a sentence. I would start to speak and drift off mid-thought. My favorite pair of glasses (the only ones I brought) broke in half. The dogs don’t like being confined, and I’m constantly worried the cats are going to break or claw something. There’s a stray cat outside our Airbnb who has fleas and I’m worried about my animals getting them. I haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since I left home. And none of it matters.

The worst was hearing of friends waiting for rescue.

The best was when my oldest texted me from his college dorm. I’m so glad you guys left.

Our house made it. We’re some of the lucky ones.

My husband went back home a few days ago, but the kids and I remain in self-imposed exile. We’re watching news and trying to grasp that this is our home. Boats and docks that were peacefully moored when we left are no longer there. Some have been washed out to sea. Some sank. Some are now on dry land. Hundreds of people were rescued from attics and rooftops as they saw their homes flooded, their belongings and memories ripped away.

And in the midst of it, there are rainbows. I hear of neighbors collecting for those who lost everything, businesses giving food to first responders and power company linemen, neighbors organizing to help each other clean up, volunteers at the shelters which remain open while those who lost all look for permanent lodging. These are the lights in the darkness.

We want to go home more than anything, but our power is still out and my husband says stay. At least until the weekend. By some miracle of hard work, our city managed to protect the water so we do not have to boil it, but the sewage pumping stations were flooded and are in the process of being restored.

I know the work will be long when we get back, but I’m eager to begin it, whether it’s volunteering to help others, throwing spoiled food out of our refrigerator, picking up branches or running the book fair I had to leave behind at our school. No matter what, I’m happy I’m still here to do it.

The Blue Cord: Tale of an Evacuee

Yesterday, my family and I fled our home on the coastal plain of North Carolina. We made the decision on the spur of the moment, and if my son hadn’t started college this fall and I wanted so badly to be with him, we might not have made it. So I know why others stayed.

I’ve heard it over and over. From well-meaning people and authorities and news reporters. Why would you stay? Why would you risk your family’s lives that way?

Indulge me in a little story. It’s a different story than most that you’ll hear about evacuating, but to me, it gets to the heart of why it is so difficult to leave. It takes place after we’d spent days getting our house ready for the hurricane that we anxiously tracked day after day after day.

It takes place after we packed our most precious photo albums and possessions and what we’d need to survive a week away from home into the cars with two kids, two dogs, two cats and a bearded dragon and set off for the Airbnb we’d found that would allow our small farm to take up residence.

It takes place after we arrived safely and told our family and friends that all was well and walked the dogs and fed the cats and ate a frozen pizza at midnight, smiling because we knew we’d see my oldest son soon.

It takes place after I got ready for bed and as I reached into my bag for a charge cord for my phone and found the one I’d brought—and suddenly my world felt like it might just fall apart. A blue cord, that I’d bought because it matched my bedspread so well. It was usually plugged in by my nightstand. It didn’t belong here in this little house and I desperately wished that I’d left it at home.

And that’s when it hit me. Home really might not be there anymore. That charge cord might be all that was left of my bedroom decor. And yes, it’s a trite thing when compared to life and limb, but the nerve-wracking week of preparation and vacillating between staying and going, the exhausting drive to unfamiliar territory where all we can do is wait until we find out if and when we can return home all coalesced for a moment in that blue charge cord I held in my hand and I wished with all my heart that I could be back home.

We know we did the right thing. We heeded the mandatory evacuation order and left. We are not in danger of anything except being inconvenienced as we wait and worry about friends and possessions we left behind. We are together and that is what matters. But every time I look at that blue charge cord, I am homesick, and I know why those who stayed did so. It’s not about possessions or greed or foolishness. It’s about home.

They stayed because they needed to be with the world they knew.