A List for Looking Back, a Poem for Looking Forward

Sometimes life just decides to take a bite out of our lives, our happiness, our capacity to feel joy. That was my 2021.

I’m trying to fight back by leaving the loss of joy behind me with the change of the year. But I can’t help looking back. Even as I know that’s not where joy is going to come from.

There are many reasons I can’t stop peeking into the rearview mirror of life. Unresolved issues. Unspoken words. A plethora of both unwarranted and earned emotions.

But as I steal glances into my recent past, I see some bright spots, too, even if they were tinged with the grey of all of the above.

  • Becoming the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate
  • Earning some much-deserved recognition for my bookstore (check out the January 2022 issue of Our State Magazine!)
  • Publishing two illustrated poetry books (UnSong and 100 Warm Days of Haiku) and two issues of The Next Chapter Litearary Magazine
  • Deepening friendships and making new ones
  • Learning (through necessity) I can do more than I ever gave myself credit for—and enjoying it!

It’s impossible to know what’s coming in 2022. If there’s one thing the past two years have taught us, it’s that. But I’m choosing to believe that whatever is in my rearview mirror, joy is still out there for me. Somewhere on the horizon ahead.

I’m calling this one Truth.

Us artsy types have a hard time owning our talents. It feels like bragging. So we wait for others to validate us with reviews or compliments. But those waits can be a long time coming because those who aren’t artsy aren’t necessarily going to notice us.

That’s why authors have such a hard time with promotion. (Nobody wants to hear me talking about my books all the time. It’ll just get on their nerves.)

That’s why artists can all too often be convinced to give away their work. (I’m just happy it’s going to a good home and will be appreciated.)

It’s not fair, you know. Nobody asks a doctor to provide free medical service because it’s what they’re good at and doctors would just laugh if they did. Because it’s a business they’ve worked hard to be a part of.

Well, so is art. So is writing. So are any number of other creative ventures. At least, we’d like them to be.

Someone once compared my style of graphic art to an adult coloring book. And I let them. Well, no more. Because it’s more than that and I’m determined to own it. To demonstrate that I’m giving you the original picture I traced onto the iPad and the final product. I’m calling this one Truth.

Grateful

Last night I saw this rose blooming by my doorstep.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I had been feeling pretty bleak about the holiday. My life is not what it was a year ago. But when I saw that rose, I paused for a second. That rose must be pretty damn determined to bloom because it’s been downright cold the past couple of nights. It made me think about my attitude.

Yes, one part of my life sucks. But there are so many other aspects that really don’t. I have my kids and my store, my new home and my pets (especially Derby of the magical purr). I have my family and more friends than I really deserve. And I am grateful. For each and every one of these things, I am heartfelt, on my knees grateful.

Sometimes, when things are tough, we forget there are always things to be grateful for. And sometimes if you start counting the small things you have, you realize there are some pretty big things to be grateful for also. And if there aren’t at the moment, then concentrate on the beauty of those small things. Remember, rose bushes start out as tiny seeds.

Happy thanksgiving.

Facing Fear

Last weekend I and most of my kids (one was, sadly, too sick) went to Scarowinds. (That’s Carowinds on select nights during the Halloween season.) Our entire purpose in going was to visit the haunted mazes and let Scarowinds actors scare the bejeezus (that’s old-fashioned Southern slang for “crap”) out of us.

I approached the first maze quakingly. My son’s girlfriend asked if we needed to go to the bathroom. “I can hold it,” I said, and she gave me a dubious look. “I hope,” I added and we both laughed.

I managed to hit four haunted mazes during our time at Scarowinds, and we walked through “scare zones” in the park where Scarowinds actors would randomly turn and scream in your ear or yell “boo!”. It truly seemed at times like they were picking on me, like maybe it’s sort of fun to scare the old lady. I got several excellent scares during our time there. And I laughed after each one.

Fear doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it did even six months ago. I look back on the timid, shy, afraid-of-my-own-shadow-and-especially-of-public-speaking person I was then and cringe a little. I’d never, really, lived on my own then, having basically gone from my parents’ care to my husband’s. I’m living on my own now. I’ve been busy creatively, too. I’ve given a couple of public speeches, one of them (a 20-minute one!) earning me the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate award.

And that’s not all.

I kill my own cockroaches and spiders. (Not saying there aren’t still some spiders I’d just as soon leave the house to instead of facing!)

Speaking of houses, I bought one.

I published a book of illustrated haiku that revealed way too much of my heart.

I haven’t unpublished said book. Because I think it has a message that may help others.

I know that I have led a fortunate life. I know there are some traumas and fears that humans can be forced to face that the human soul will never come back from. But I’ve discovered something important. When you are forced to face a real fear that you can come back from, fear doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.

The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” isn’t exactly right, because dealing with fear and trauma does kill parts of you no matter what. It’s just a question of how much. But you might say, “If you are forced to deal with something you fear, you probably won’t be as easy to scare anymore.”

Nothing against Scarowinds. It was hugely fun and entertaining. But fun, artificial frights don’t scare me anymore.

Derby the Next Chapter Cat expresses his thoughts about fear… 😉

UnSong update… and a few thoughts about Seuss… with an illustration

First off, the good news. I am almost finished with UnSong. Which means I’m looking for a few good…people…to read and review it. It’s in the Beta reading stage, then my art director gets to look over my illustrations and offer constructive criticism (or just fix my mistakes herself) and meanwhile I’m working on Scrivener to format it properly (page numbers and what not)…but it won’t be long before I am ready to send it out for advance reviews. Anybody interested?

Second, I’m finally ready to weigh in on the Dr. Seuss debacle (you know where the estate of Dr. Seuss took six of his books off the shelf because they contained racist imagery?). It took me a while to digest this and figure out how I felt about it because Seuss was a source of great entertainment when I was a child (though I admit I had a preference for the darker imagery of Mother Goose). Still, the Cat in the Hat was pretty creepy and fun.

Anyway, six Dr. Seuss books being yanked from stores and shelves and online dealers all at once caused a great deal of consternation among parents and teachers. How dare they? These are classics. True enough, though I couldn’t remember reading any of them except Mulberry Street and McElligott’s Pool. And though I didn’t recall any racist imagery in them, when I went back and looked, it didn’t take long to spot.

Still, surely it’s a bit of an overreaction to pull six books because of a few racist illustrations and words. Doesn’t the work itself outweigh those tiny infractions?

Not necessarily. As a librarian and a writer, I know books go out of print for a number of reasons. One of those is certainly outdated information, and Dr. Seuss’s talent for iambic pentameter and rhyme notwithstanding, his books were definitely guilty of that. Another reason for removing books from print and/or shelves is if there are other books and authors that provide the same entertainment or information value without the offensive characteristics. I can list a number of authors who can do this: P.D. Eastman, Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Marcus Pfister, Eric Carle… If you want to broaden children’s minds rather than limit them, just Google “anti-racist alternatives to Dr. Seuss”. There are some amazing books out there for kids. And there’s always the rather dark, twisted and melancholy world of Mother Goose where children regularly break their crowns or eat blackbirds baked into a pie.

Dr. Seuss definitely played a role in my childhood. It’s possible he inspired some of what I write today. It’s also possible I’m still fighting some of what he taught me.

Worth considering, don’t you think?

By Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

I don’t have a problem with Amazon. Not really.

This weekend a friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. It was an article by Adam Stern in The Chicago Tribune entitled “Independent Bookstores are More Than Stores”.

This article gave me a lot of feels.

First, as a reader, I totally agree with him. I remember as a kid haunting local bookstores. I would sometimes spend hours browsing bookstore shelves. That’s how I discovered Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony and even Jane Austen. We had a used bookstore in our town called The Book Nook. I would often trade books in there. I’d bring in a stack of dog-eared novels and leave with another. I believe that’s where I first made the acquaintance of Stephen King. There is absolutely nothing like browsing a bookstore’s shelves and taking home a new book by a new author you might never have tried before.

And yes, this experience is slowly dying off.

Second, as an author, I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. They make it easy for me to publish my books. It costs me nothing but time to put my book up for sale on Amazon. BUT they make it easy for anyone to publish their books. Forgive me for sounding a little uppity here, but when I decide to publish something, it’s gone through intensive editing. I self-edit, but I am an editor, so I can do it. My books are not the stream-of-consciousness, unedited, full-of-typos books that have given independent/self-publishing a bad name. In fact, I would venture to say that my books are better edited than some bestsellers. But it’s difficult for readers to trust self-published books because anyone can self-publish. Hence, the love/hate relationship.

I cannot hate on Amazon when they provide essential tools for me, though.

Third, as a bookstore owner. Okay, I should hate Amazon, right? Again, there’s mixed feelings here. My store serves a different purpose than Amazon. You will not find the latest Oprah pick (does she still do that?), the newest best seller, the trendiest hot read on my shelves. I have well-loved classics, dog-eared novels, a decent selection of nonfiction, and LOCAL, INDEPENDENTLY-PUBLISHED AUTHORS. So as far as that goes, I don’t have a problem with Amazon. When someone comes in and asks for Nicholas Sparks’s latest or the new book by Barack Obama, I cheerfully refer them to Books-A-Million or Amazon. “But I want to keep my money local and help you,” they say. “So browse the shelves and find something you like from what I have,” I reply.

That’s my problem (and, I guess, Stern’s) with Amazon. But it’s not just Amazon. It’s big publishing in general. And people like Oprah who presume to know what other people should read. They have the influence and resources to push the same authors over and over again. The same ideas get consumed over and over. Just because I can publish my well-edited, pretty damn readable book doesn’t mean it’s going to be discovered by readers who have been conditioned to want to read the latest bestseller, the latest trendy nonfiction, the latest thing Oprah said was good.

So, to those who call me up and ask for the book they heard about on Good Morning America this morning, I say, “If you truly want to help your community and keep your money local, have a look at our local author section. There’s some good stuff in there that you will never know about if you don’t give it a try.”

My independently published graphic novel.

Poem: Hell at Your Doorstep

Like many, I’ve been watching the developments of the riot at the Capitol Building last week. Probably more than I should…although, maybe not.

You see, at first, I thought it was a bunch of yahoos that overwhelmed an unprepared bunch of basically mall cops. Were the cops even armed with anything but batons and shields? I wasn’t clear. It seemed, at first, like a bunch of rednecks got out of control at a tailgate party.

Over the course of the past week, it’s become very clear, that’s not what happened at all. The rioting crowd was out for blood. And blood was spilled. Some theirs, but a lot of it from the courageous police who were all that stood between the mob and the fragile gears of our democracy.

I think it’s important that we all not only realize this but accept it. Maybe there were good people in that mob swept up by the evil and the hell. Maybe we all need to be on guard because if the events of January 6, 2021 are any indication, hellfire is just a step away.

Hell at Your Doorstep

By Michelle Garren Flye

Hell’s not far away

Pull back the shade

You know it’s there

It doesn’t try to hide

Watch people tumble

Unresisting to the flames

Follow, follow, the light cries

Come and meet your doom

The eagle’s flight wavers

Courageous profiles darken

When hell flames alight

At your very doorstep

Massive gates won’t stop

The press of fiery rage

Stone burns the same

As wooden crosses then

Thorns bleed tears of wine

Drip down marble visage

Don’t look out the window, love

Hell will greet you there

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Echoes: For Our Congress

Echoes: For Our Congress

By Michelle Garren Flye

Angry bangs and steps echo

In hallowed halls

While souls scrunch under chairs

And keep silent

To avoid detection

Anguished texts and last-minute calls

Words left unsaid must be spoken

Because time is suddenly ending

A doorknob rattles

(Is it friend or foe?)

Huddle down, small one,

Don’t grab attention now

The loud crashes might be gunshots

Those screams might be a friend

Don’t react, keep your cries quiet

Until someone calls the all clear

Then hold your hands up,

Follow directions through bloody halls—

And welcome the U.S. Capitol to the ranks

The domestic terror list that includes:

Parkland

Sandy Hook

Columbine

Listen to the echoes

And know what they endured

Because of your neglect.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

By Michelle Garren Flye

Merry Christmas we cry,

Admiring our tree,

Wishing we could fly

But there’s nowhere left to flee.

The soft glow of white light

Illuminates our night’s work:

Vision of loveliness to our sight

While we ignore what’s in the mirk.

It’s the last of 2020,

The year everything went berserk.

We know that our fates

Rest on whatever comes next,

On untested dates

That still may be hexed.

Maybe, just maybe, our lives will get better?

Maybe we’ll get past this year that was cursed?

Whatever lies in wait is just round the corner—

No time to waste, we plunge in headfirst!

Never mind, doesn’t matter; this year’s a goner.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

A Day of Promises: Happy Winter Solstice!

I try never to let the winter solstice pass unnoticed. Of course I was asleep at 5:30 a.m. or whatever ungodly hour the solstice actually happened, but today is one of my favorite days.

The shortest day of the year.

I’ve watched the days get shorter since the summer solstice (you really can notice it after a week or two). Once daylight savings runs out, it’s really noticeable. Suddenly I have to hurry to walk my dog before it gets dark.

And then you get to today. The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere at least. And that means tomorrow it will be light longer. Today is not a day of darkness. It is a day of promise.

Tomorrow will be brighter.

With that in mind, I thought I would share the first bit of something from my next comic, SeaGlass. Because that’s my promise. I’ll finish another comic next year.

From SeaGlass, my next comic. Art and words by Michelle Garren Flye