THAT Text—will you get it next?

Yesterday I got that text. The one parents all over the United States have been getting. It’s never expected or wanted. It’s not welcome at all. But as of now we’ve done absolutely nothing to stop it.

At 5:51 p.m. my son texted me, “Crap there’s a shooter on campus.”

For the next several hours we texted and called back and forth. I’m lucky. My son was safe in his dorm. His friends were scattered across campus, one in the library that was fired on, another in the student union. Others hunkered down in classrooms and halls. Slowly word got out that the shooter was caught. Buildings were cleared and students were allowed to leave.

At 11:28 p.m. I texted my son again to make sure all was well and he said it was. His roommates were back, having been released from where they’d sheltered. He was going to bed, hungry because the dining hall was closed and he had no food in his room. Hungry but alive and safe. I got to tell him I love him again.

That text is coming for every parent out there. Until our Congress implements sensible gun control measures, we are all in danger of getting it. Until the NRA’s power over us is cast off, every parent sends their kid off to school knowing that it might be their child sending them that text next.

The shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte barely caused a blip on the radar of most politicians and news organizations. By the numbers, the shooting wasn’t that bad, right? Only two people died. Only four people were injured. Only two families had to be notified that their students wouldn’t come home. Only four had to wait in anguish for word that their loved ones were out of surgery.

Can we really judge it by the numbers, though? Because the only number that matters, really, is one. One more school shooting. One more time that lives were ended when common sense gun control could have stopped it. One more time kids texted their parents.

So, if you’re happy with waiting for that text from your kid, go ahead, sit back, relax. This was just one shooting. But it only took one shooting to end the lives of two college students yesterday.

You’ll get that text eventually unless we stop this now.

Facebook storytelling: I’m fine, and you?

I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook about how nobody believes your Facebook posts about your perfect family, so why don’t you just tell the truth?

LOL.

Truth is not really what Facebook is for. It never has been. Facebook started out being a sort of public bragbook for friends you never see. Remember those things? I made them after all my kids’ births to carry around in my purse and show to my friends—see how cute my kids are? Of course, that was before the camera phone. Now I can whip out my phone and show you my last vacation, my new puppy, my car, my son’s graduation, a video of my daughter singing, my other son’s last basketball game—you get the picture.

My point is, Facebook is the equivalent of saying “just fine and you” when someone asks how you are. I mean, if I answered that question honestly every day, I’d get some pretty peculiar looks. A couple of times I’ve gotten some glimpses into acquaintances real lives on Facebook. Every single time, someone closer than me to that person starts begging them to stop putting family stuff on Facebook.

In our hearts, we know everyone we know doesn’t have a perfect life and family. Marriages are in trouble, kids have problems, people make mistakes they can’t take back. Friends and family pass away, we fail each other, we fail ourselves, we neglect the world around us. Life sucks sometimes and all we can do is survive.

I’m fine. How are you?

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