Hallelujahs and the creative process (with a poem)

By this point everyone probably thinks they know Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”. It’s been in movies and television. Even Kate McKinnon had a go at it on Saturday Night Live. So even if, like many, you’re confused about the meaning of the song, you probably think you have heard it from beginning to end.

Possibly think again.

For my own reasons I’ve been doing some research on this song. It was supposed to be a simple Google search, but I found a rabbit hole and plunged right in. I found that there are more than 300 recorded versions. Not surprising considering Cohen wrote more than 80 draft verses for the song. Maybe that’s why he also recorded two versions himself.

According to legend, he spent one writing session in a motel room writing verse after verse while sitting on the floor in his underwear.

That’s quite a creative process.

In spite of all he went through to create his masterpiece, Cohen never expressed disappointment that other versions came to exist when others recorded his song. (Recording artists have rearranged verses, changed words and omitted lines.) In fact, he said himself that he believed that many hallelujahs exist. To me, this explains why he let the act of creating this work of art to consume him so. And I think he’s right. If we let ourselves, we find our own hallelujah.

By the way, I listened to many, many versions of this song while I wrote this. My favorite? Cohen’s live performance in London in 2009.

Many Hallelujahs (for LC)

By Michelle Garren Flye

A mother approaches a borderline.

Safety awaits her on the other side.

Baby in her arms, clutched against her breast—

She crosses the line and whispers, “Hallelujah.”

A black man sits alone in his car.

Flashing blue lights his rear view mirror.

He knows his fate is not his own,

So when he is told to go, he says, “Hallelujah.”

A woman awaits her weekly call

From desert sands so far away.

This world has so many dangers for her heart—

The phone rings and she cries, “Hallelujah.”

The activist lays it on the line every day,

To make a difference, he argues and persuades.

He won’t stop until he’s made it right.

Then someone listens at last and he shouts, “Hallelujah!”

The writer ponders the meaning of one word

And writes and writes, thinks it will never be his.

He bangs his head—and then it’s in his grasp.

His tired hand shakes as he declares, “Hallelujah.”

Confession time: Imagine, my deepest secret

So, here’s my confession. The deepest secret I’ve been keeping for the last two months.

I’m taking singing lessons.

What? You’re not shocked? You would be if you knew me. I’ve always said I can’t carry a tune to save my life. I’ve even claimed to be tone deaf.

Long story short, my very brave and lovely voice teacher gave me first choice of songs to learn, and I chose Imagine by John Lennon. At this point, I’ve sung it so many times, I know it by heart—and by that, I mean more than just that I know every word.

It’s like those words are, literally, inscribed on my heart.

I’ve always loved the song, of course. But until I had to do the work of matching the words to the music and singing them more or less in tune, I didn’t really think about their meanings.

Imagine there’s no heaven…no hell below us…living for today…

What might the world be like if we were all driven just by the desire to live our best lives right here? On earth, right now. This is the moment we have. This is the only moment we have.

…no countries…no religion too…living life in peace…

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine living your life for your family and the people you love without imagined boundaries to separate us? No race, no patriotism, no gods to get in the way.

Am I dreamer? I bet there are more with the same dream. Heck, it’s what Star Trek is based on.

…no possessions…

That’s a big one, isn’t it? That’s why the next line is, “I wonder if you can.” It’s a big ask. A revolutionary thought in a capitalistic society that puts different values on skills. But what if everyone’s skills were regarded with the same value? If we truly reached that point of nirvana where the garbage collector’s service is of the same value as the teacher’s and the doctor’s?

no need for greed or hunger…a brotherhood of man…

And forget lawyers and criminals because:

…imagine all the people sharing all the world…

Do you see? What Lennon dreamed was a world of pure freedom unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. I’ve dreamed of that, too. But I’ve never fought for it. Too caught up in what the world actually is to be able to see what it could be, I guess.

It may be too late to have that world, but we can dream it. We can imagine it if we try really hard—and if we can imagine it, we can work toward it.

Imagine that.

March is Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. How many of you knew that? I’m thinking fewer than should. We all know Black History Month is February, and many of us know April is Poetry Month, but for some reason Women’s History Month isn’t well known.

I’m thinking it may be because so much of women’s history isn’t known. It’s been suppressed in favor of men’s account of women’s history. I found it interesting, for instance, when I happened upon this little tidbit of women’s history on a trek around my hometown:

I did a little research on Emeline. Her name is alternately spelled Emmeline and Piggott or Piggot or Pigot or Pigott—even once in a newspaper clipping about her arrest “Eveline”. There are many stories about her, including that she “entertained” Union soldiers while her brother-in-law carried contraband to Confederate troops, that she ate a letter when she was arrested instead of turning it over to Union soldiers, and that while she was jailed an attempted assassination by chloroform failed because she broke a window to breathe through until help arrived.

It’s interesting to me because in some places, these stories about Emeline are referred to as legends and in other places are reported as facts. Even here on the sign, it says “According to local tradition”. That’s almost equivalent to “Once upon a time”. But Emeline was not a fairytale. She was a real woman, and, regardless of politics, she suffered for a cause she believed in.

It got me thinking about what women went through to get the vote. Until a few years ago I’d believed they marched peacefully, well-dressed and carrying banners because that’s what the school history books depicted. The reality is less appetizing, though. A few years ago I read about “the Night of Terror” when suffragists were beaten and tortured. A little shocked, I did more research.

Suffragists were badasses. Seriously. They didn’t just stand around with polite placards saying please let us vote until reasonable white men decided to give them the nineteenth amendment. There was property damage, rude signs and screaming at the president and Congress. Incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and were force fed with rubber tubes.

No doubt they were told at some point not to be so emotional.

I wonder if today’s men would dare to tell them to “smile more”.

My point is, you won’t learn about most of women’s history in schoolbooks. “Women held protests on the White House lawn and were given the right to vote in 1920” is about all you’ll get there. What women need to remember is that for decades women fought for the right to vote. They fought with much more than just orderly parades and when saying please failed, they didn’t hesitate to declare all out war.

Should we allow that history to be repressed? Shouldn’t we be teaching it to our daughters?

Infamous suffragist leader Lucy Burns, on the third day of a hunger strike following her imprisonment on the Night of Terror, was tempted with fried chicken to break her strike. With contempt, she said, “They think there is nothing in our souls above fried chicken.”

There is so much more in the soul of women than what we’re given credit for by the history in schoolbooks. I may not agree with Emeline Pigott’s politics, but I do think she carried iron in her soul, and I believe she deserves the credit for that. Her story should not be relegated to the same level of history as fairytales. Whatever happened to her while jailed, or while she was “entertaining” Union soldiers, it is part of women’s history and women’s history isn’t fried chicken. It’s iron and blood and suffering and triumph. And we should never forget that.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love (with a poem)

Happy Valentine’s Day! A day dedicated to this crazy thing called love.

But why “crazy”? you ask. What do you mean by that?

Because nobody knows what causes it. And you risk ruining it by examining it too closely.

Because what else could it be but crazy to open your heart and show someone else what’s in it?

Because loving someone—or something—is the biggest risk you can ever take. If they don’t fail you, the world might. Life happens all around us every single day. And it happens to all of us in different ways all at the same time.

Because if you let love into your heart, it will take up all the space there—and if life happens to the subject of your love in a way that takes it away, the emptiness might just become a black hole that sucks you into the void.

So why, then? If it’s such a big risk, why do we do it? Why do we search for love? Why do we willingly plunge into the risky waters of love?

No one knows. And certainly no one knows better than the poets that no one knows. In his aptly titled poem “Poem”, e.e. Cummings said:

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star

I like this and I feel like it comes closer to identifying the what and the why better than anything I’ve ever read. It’s like “The Force” in Star Wars. Love underlies everything, is everything, the one superhuman strength that you can’t really identify but it’s really there. It makes us stronger and weaker at the same time.

Love—whether it’s for parent, sibling, child, spouse, pet or all things—is the way we connect most intimately with the world. The more we feel, the closer we are to the universe. The more we open ourselves up to love, the more risk we are willing to take for the love—the more fragilely strong we become.

A Million (and 1) Things to Love

By Michelle Garren Flye

Where is love?

Songs simplify,

Poems complicate.

But love is there.

Reach for it.

The love of saving,

The love of believing,

The love of finding.

Love fleeting,

Love flying,

Love staying.

The world is full.

All around you, things to love.

Objects for affection.

A cat, a dog, a child.

A rose, a plant, a sunset.

A soul mate for the very lucky.

Hope will find love.

Trust will strengthen love.

Faith will keep love safe.

Reach for it.

Hold it tight in your heart—

And hope it doesn’t

Break

You

Open.

A Million Zillion Liberal Dreams

Yesterday I thought a lot about the new liberal progressive Democrats and their “Green New Deal”. Though I’ve always considered myself a moderate Democrat, it seems to me that this Green New Deal makes all kind of sense. New jobs, new infrastructure, eliminating carbon from our energy sources.

Once upon a time our nation would have embraced what now seems outrageous to so many.

As usual, I had music on when I figured out something major. And the music contributed to the resounding “click” I heard in my head. This time I was in the car, and Pink’s version of “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman came on. And…click

Why do poets and artists tend to be more liberal?

Why are so many liberals poets and artists?

(Click) We are dreamers.

It’s true. We dream of what could be or we let what is haunt us. We dream of change. We dream of life and love and liberty for all. We are patriots who believe our country can be better, and we can make it so.

We have a million, zillion dreams, and yes, they keep us up at night.

My ruminations left me with two questions, though.

1. Why is the Democratic Party afraid to own their dreams? Why not just say, yes, this is who we are and what we want, and we know we can get us there?

2. Why is everyone so afraid to dream these perfectly reasonable dreams that will benefit everyone in our country and the world at large? If we have a million, zillion dreams, there’s room for everyone in them, isn’t there?

Advice for Democrats running on a liberal agenda: Own your dreams. Stop apologizing for them. A Green New Deal is a dream worth fighting for.

What dreams do you have that are worth fighting for?

I am Liberal

By Michelle Garren Flye

We are

(Liberal)

Dreamers.

We stay awake

At night imagining

What we can be.

What you can be.

We are

(Liberal)

Believers.

We believe the world

Can welcome all.

A place for us.

A place for you.

We are

(Liberal)

Reformers.

We own our mistakes

(And yours) and fix them.

For your future.

For our future.

We are

Dreamers

Believers

Reformers

Imaginers

Romantics

Visionaries

Advocates

Innovators

Environmentalists

Activists

Scientists

Artists

Poets

Crusaders—

Liberals.

For tomorrow—photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Despairing of Toxic Humans

He’s witnessed a lot. What would his social media status be?

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot despair of humanity, for we ourselves are human.”

Of course, Al didn’t live in the age of social media, did he?

By now, everyone has seen video of the MAGA hat-wearing Catholic kids making fun of the Native American elder who may or may not be a Vietnam veteran. And everyone has an opinion. Some say the kids are at fault, others the African American men who hurled insults at them because they were wearing MAGA hats.

Personally, I find fault with everyone involved in that situation, including myself. And I was several hundred miles away when it happened.

Just to be clear here, the kids from Covington Catholic were absolutely behaving badly. Toxically. Their parents should ground every last one of them for disrespecting their elders.

With that said, however, those kids were mirroring not only what they were seeing right then, but also, probably, what they see at home and at school. The evidence for this? The chaperones did not interfere. By not interfering, they okayed the behavior of these kids. I’m not sure why anyone is surprised by this. They are from Kentucky, the lovely state that gave us Turtle Man McConnell, the most toxic human being in government.

Add to that the horrible behavior of the other adults on the scene, and you can see what these kids are up against. And then some idiot adult edited the video to make it look like the teenagers were the only ones misbehaving and idiot adults like me were outraged and posted and reposted on social media.

The truth of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is that everyone was behaving badly. There are no martyrs here. And I really wish the adults would own up to their bad behavior and set a better example, because condemning kids for following the super bad examples they see from adults is going to get us nothing but more toxic adults.

Of course, Einstein also reportedly said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.” So maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath where humans are concerned.

Bite-size philosophy and me

IMG_5233

Today’s world and politics often inspire a fit of philosophy in me as I try to make sense of what is happening and how to deal with it. –photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I’m a closet philosopher. Seriously, I’ve been accused of thinking too much. The problem is, if I try to read an entire book—or even an entire essay—by a philosopher, I get bored. I find myself thinking about what’s for lunch or what my kids are doing or when I need to go grocery shopping again.

The Internet has solved that for me. When I find myself pondering a philosophical problem, I can look it up on the Internet and find bite-size nuggets of inspiration in philosophical quotes. And since I always like to check my sources, I end up reading at least a paragraph or two from the quoted philosopher. Until I started this up, I had no idea who Bertrand Russell was but now I’ve read several paragraphs from him!

Google this one if you’re likely to fall for internet hoaxes: “…it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

–Bertrand Russell

That’s how I found out Albert Camus agrees with me that today’s attitudes toward “West Coast elite” writers, actors, and artists is a bad thing. Camus would have been heartbroken by the fall of Hollywood in today’s world. Of course, Camus died in 1960, and I don’t even know if he ever saw a movie, but I found a quote that seems to support this idea of mine. Camus wrote: “Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.”

What a wonderful thought. I pictured men on a bleak battlefield ceasing the fight while they looked for the beauty of what they were fighting for. How many wars might end if we stopped to think about what we fought for? I checked the source of the quote and found a longer section of Camus’s essay “The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.” In this section, Camus expounds on the necessity of art to make sense of history. Look, for instance, at this sentence:

“Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and Tolstoy knew how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart.”

–Albert Camus

I dare to believe that Camus wrote, in 1951, how I’ve been feeling about the way many artists are treated today when they dare to make their feelings about the larger world known. Stephen King, Barbra Streisand, Colin Kaepernick (yes, sports can be art), J.K. Rowling—even Rob Thomas—all of these artists and many more have been slammed on Twitter and in conservative media for daring to make political opinions known in today’s highly divisive atmosphere.

To the artists I say, you have vision and you must keep seeing. Keep seeing and keep speaking out because though you are outnumbered by those who can’t see, your light shines brighter than theirs. And that’s your job.

In case you were wondering, Camus would have agreed with me about this. In that same essay, he said something which I can only take as a message to me and to all like me who see the world as oppressive and who want to make it freer and more beautiful and welcoming to all:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

–Albert Camus

And that is how I will seek to live my life.