Another day, another active shooting on a school campus. What are you going to do?

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Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Picture it. Really put yourself there. Stand there on that high school campus in the misty cool November morning. You’re a kid. You didn’t want to go to school but you dragged yourself out of bed. Maybe you had to get there early to take a test you missed last week or to work on plans for the next school dance or maybe you had a club meeting.

Whatever. You’re there. You’re standing on the quad at your high school, maybe talking to a friend. What are you going to do this weekend? Gotta work. But maybe catch a movie after? You’re sixteen and you have your license now. The whole world has opened up to you.

You hear a pop and in the cool fall morning under the open sky, it doesn’t feel important at first. And then you see the small red dot between your friend’s eyes and you feel the warm spray of her blood and nothing is really real except the next pop seconds later and the sting in your shoulder as you spin and fall on the prickly grass.

From there, you try to decide. Lie still, play dead or get up and run while you still can. Another pop and then two more. That’s five. If the movies are right, you get six. But the last one seems to take a while longer. You roll over and look. He’s standing less than twenty feet from you, but the gun is pointed at his own head, not you. You wonder if it’ll work. You’ve heard it’s hard to actually kill yourself that way. You’ve heard of people doing it, losing part of their brain, living the life of a vegetable, or, possibly worse, being horribly deformed for the rest of their lives.

You see his eyes, the hollow, hopeless look there, and you desperately hope that this time it will work.

And the last pop comes and he falls and it’s over. You lay back and tears seep from your eyes as you remember the red dot between your friend’s eyes. It bothers you that you don’t remember her falling, just standing there. Like she’s still standing there above you and not lying on the ground next to you with the back of her head blown out. Who else was shot? They aren’t all dead because you can hear them crying, too. You hear someone retching, coughing. Blood and vomit and tears soak the grass.

And so it happens again. Two lives lost, four more wounded in the time it takes to walk across a room. All because someone had a gun who shouldn’t have had a gun.

Raise your hand if you’ve been in an active shooting situation.

Raise your hand if you know someone who has been in an active shooting situation.

Raise your hand if you’re pretty certain you will soon.

By this point, all hands should be raised.

One moment a maniac…

IMG_1947If you’ve ever read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you know it’s full of bitter truths. That love has no reason. That mankind is cruel. That wealth and status are merciless and religion can be flat out wrong. Of course, most of us haven’t actually read the masterpiece. At best, we’ve seen a movie adaptation. At worst, however, we’ve heard the music of Disney’s adaptation at some point.

When Notre Dame burned last year, I cried. I hadn’t seen it yet and it was on my bucket list. It still is, even though I’ll never see the cathedral that was termed “The Forest” for the network of wooden beams that made up the roof. But some of the grand church was preserved. The fabulous rose windows and stone walls still stand. I can see those…someday.

And then I heard one of our local theatres was doing the musical adapted from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was adapted from Victor Hugo’s epic novel. Of course, I had to audition. And somehow, in spite of my audition, I made it into the choir, so I get to sing many of these songs while sitting or standing on stage the entire time. And as an added bonus, I have a couple of lines as a gargoyle.

It’s been fun. Nerve-wracking at times, but fun. I’ve listened to the music so much I may never want to hear it again, even “God Bless the Outcasts” which I’ve been known to blast in my car for no real reason at all. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people—theatre people are great. Differences don’t matter when you’re on stage. I’ve noticed that particularly with this cast. Race, religion, sexual orientation and the big one—Politics—none of that crap matters when you’re telling the story you’ve been charged to tell.

As for the production, well it’s fun. It’s exhausting. It’s taken a lot of time away from my family, and I’m really kind of looking forward to being done with it. But being in this production has also reminded me of what’s perhaps the most cruel of Hugo’s lessons to his readers: That dreams don’t always come true but life really isn’t worth living without them.

What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poems: Push Back, Speak Up (Warnings)

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Silence is not an option. It’s not golden. Find your voice before it’s lost.

Once again, I take my inspiration from a strong woman. Nancy Pelosi may not be the first person you’d think would inspire poetry, but that picture of her pointing a stern finger at a spoiled man while he recoils in stunned anger should inspire every woman who’s ever felt smothered by men.

I know how that happens. Every woman knows. We’re conditioned to get married and have children and if we don’t then there’s something wrong with us. I got married and had children. For a time I did lose my voice, but then I found it again in my writing. I’m fortunate to be married to a man who is confident enough in his own skin to allow me to speak out from mine.

Me too, nasty women, hear me roar, fight like a girl, my body my choice, the future is female, and my personal favorite: silence is not an option. These are just a few of the things women have found the voice to say. But what they all add up to is this: Every. Single. Woman. Has. A. Voice. And that voice is not meant to echo, it’s not meant to be bitten back or smothered behind a man’s hand. Speaking up doesn’t make you less of a woman. It makes you more of a human.

Speaker Pelosi is speaking up in that picture, and that’s why Donald Trump thinks it depicts her as having a “meltdown”. That’s why some men will agree with him. And that’s why we owe it to all women everywhere to speak up. We have voices. Let’s use them.

Silence is not an option. At least, it’s not a good one.

 

Push Back (A Warning)

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

He wraps you up.

Warmth envelops you.

It’s nice, safe, there in him.

You might never want to leave.

 

He wraps you in.

Safety can suffocate.

You choke, feel lost and alone.

You can’t be free now, can’t speak out.

 

He wraps you down.

And now you push back.

Will he give way, let you breathe?

Can you tell him how you feel at last?

 

He wraps you tight.

Push harder! Don’t give up!

It’s your life to live, your love to give.

And you were given a voice to tell your story.

 

He sets you free…

You can breathe again.

You can speak and believe.

He stands beside you, what will you do?

 

You take his hand.

You’re in this together.

Side-by-side, he can’t forget you’re there.

The ties that bind don’t have to be painful.

 

 

 

 

Speak Out (A Warning)

By Michelle Garren Flye

Lips tremble, form words without sound.

A whisper pushes past, but no one hears.

How can you expect to use what was never found

After days upon days upon years and years?

What is a mouth made for if not to speak?

What good is a tongue if behind it there’s no voice?

You try to push it out, but the words barely squeak.

It’s what happens in the end if you make that choice.

Don’t echo, don’t fib, don’t quiet what will never die.

Your spirit withers within a body of silent tears.

You wish you could scream, but you can only cry.

Oceans of silent waves push back on your cares.

Voices can be lost without thought and exercise.

Form a word of your own now and then—or lose hope.

If you bury yourself in a man’s beliefs, you’ll just tell lies.

Speak up, speak out, and if he objects, just let him cope.

Mumfest weekend!

Just a quick note here to let you know I’ll be at Mumfest this year, representing both Michelle Garren Flye and my alter ego Shelley Gee, who you might know as the writer of charming children’s mysteries. I will have copies of all my books, including my poetry booklet, which is in limited release (meaning you either have to go to The Next Chapter Books & Art or find me to purchase a copy). I’ve cut the prices for Mumfest weekend if you buy directly from me, so it’s a great time to stock up on good books! I hope to meet some of you at Mumfest. I’ll be in the purple tent on Middle Street with my friend Noel of Blissworks. It’s hard to miss! Noel’s artwork is fantastic!

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Mumfest 2018

Poem: On the Screen

What’s happening right now breaks my heart because it was preventable. In fact, it was being prevented. Our Kurdish allies are fighting and dying. Mothers are losing their children. Tiny babies lie in pools of blood, covered in dust. And it’s all because a few men made decisions that meant their lives meant nothing. Life is meant for more. Be outraged. Be angry. Be sad or regretful or depressed. Be anything but accepting of this tragedy. Life is meant for more than ending on our television screens.

On the Screen

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

From across the world we watch as death rains down.

How can we know what to feel?

Safe in our kitchens, our warm homes, our towns—

Not part of the pack anymore.

 

Broken bodies litter the earth but it’s so very far away.

You run, and we don’t miss a meal.

Dust and rubble clear, but your sorrow never may.

Meanwhile we watch the news at four.

 

We shake our heads: Nothing I can do, nothing to be done.

Our hearts go out to your appeal—

But tomorrow’s just a day for us—another day in the sun.

And we’ll check the headlines of course.

 

Across the world, an ocean away, with only the media to guide.

As your hearts’ blood spills

On pavement stones and runs down the mountainside—

Life is meant for more.

 

Poem: (In Remembrance) Cast Out

(In Remembrance): Cast Out

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

It’s all over but the crying now.

We never knew that would happen. We didn’t see the loss of hope, the loss of growth, the loss of who we are. How could we?

Even as we witnessed its birth.

We clustered around televisions and fell to our knees and cried and prayed and cursed. We angrily threw a flag over the destruction.

We swore we’d make them pay.

Blinded by rage, we fight a war no one can win. We send our soldiers to deserts of ash and blood. We lose what’s left of freedom in revenge.

And what of those born after?

Born into a world of anger and suspicion, how can our children ever be innocent? We guard and shield, but they know and despair.

Do you remember what it was like—before?

Before the hate, the fear, the constant defending against evil. Doesn’t it look like a golden age now? Doesn’t it look like a garden?

It’s all over but the crying now.

Cast out, left to drown in hot tears like jet fuel streaming from the eyes of a nation. Did it melt our core? Do we only wait to fall?

Regret tastes like ash, blood, desert sand. And tears.

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