What we are witnessing—from a Southern White Woman’s perspective

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.” —Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, June 2020

I actually don’t think that’s all we’re witnessing. I think our problems run much deeper. Four hundred years deep, dating back to the day the first slave stepped off the ship onto the soil that would one day be the soil of the United States.

Oh where were our visionaries then?

I suppose we could look to our founding fathers. Well, not all of them. But Benjamin Franklin allowed himself to be educated on the slave situation, though he remained pessimistic about integrating Black people into society. However, a thoughtful, intelligent man could not help but be troubled by what he himself saw as “an atrocious debasement of human nature”.

Yet he owned two slaves himself. And Benjamin Franklin was the best white man we had to offer at the time.

Jump ahead a few centuries. On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump announced he was running for president. Less than a year later, it was obvious he had the support to win. To the befuddlement and consternation of thoughtful, intelligent people everywhere, Donald J. Trump went on to become president of what was once the greatest nation in the world.

Life went on, but from that moment, the rights of the marginalized were under attack and in danger. As Mattis says, we haven’t had mature leadership. We have had evil leadership. Ignorant leadership. Leadership with the rights and privileges of the rich and powerful and white (and mainly male) prioritized. And our institutions have suffered because so much of them is controlled by that very demographic. It’s hard to stand up for what’s right when your stock portfolio is soaring. It’s hard to be concerned about “the others” when your race/religion/party is on top.

“The founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. I feel as though that is under assault and is eroding.” —Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, May 2017

Turns out Clapper was right. Our institutions have crumbled. Our checks and balances are nearly gone. And now we have a choice to make. The economy is on the verge of recovering after the blow it was dealt by Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. We haven’t seen the last of COVID-19, but people are learning how to live with the danger. That’s not even the wrong thing to do. We had to adapt. We are strong that way. Where we are weak is remembering the bad times.

Black Lives Matter has a chance for the first time in our history to make a difference. As a Southern White Woman—which I put in capitals because I worry constantly that it defines me to others, but, worse, to myself—I know this is important. It is important to every marginalized human being in our country including women, but it is most important to the Black community, which may finally throw off four hundred years of oppression.

Can we as a nation find the strength to resist a government which would oppress all of us—all but the powerful, white, and rich? Can the powerful, white, and rich find it in themselves to resist the call of more power and more money? Some have. James Mattis was one of them. There have been others.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.” —Senator John McCain, October 2017

“Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.” Senator Jeff Flake, October 2017

Can others follow? Can we all come to realize what is wrong is wrong even when it is not in our own interests? I don’t know. In November 2020 I hope I will find out. I pray what has been normalized—whether that has happened over four years or four centuries—will be rejected. Only then will the symbols of freedom we treasure mean anything at all.

Southern White Woman signing off.

Eagle. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Aging Grace

Aging Grace

By Michelle Garren Flye

How is it that nature ages in grace?

How does the flower hold its charm?

Why does the gardenia smell as nice

When age has yellowed its form?

When the rose drops its petals

It reveals its splendid heart.

The darkened magnolia settles

To death with a very gentle art.

Oh why cannot we learn nature’s ways

Of passing quietly one season or four?

Instead we count and number the days

As if we are keeping score.

I hope we learn this skill as we grow older,

So in the end, we know how to be golder.

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Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.

Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes and fill up my heart.” That is indeed what reading is for many today. But it’s also a privilege and a right that human beings of all races had to fight for.

Before the invention of the printing press, only the upper classes had books to read. They were just too expensive for the common folk. Too busy surviving plague and poverty, many of these people never learned to read. Bibles, especially, were kept to the clergy and the church, mainly because they were the only ones who could read it in its original Latin. God forbid that the lower classes read it for themselves and start thinking and interpreting religion for themselves.

But then came the English translation of the Bible—which was banned for that very reason. It was smuggled into English hands by determined bibliophiles, but William Tyndale, the translator who lived in exile in Europe in order to complete his life’s work, was executed.

Of course slaves were not allowed to learn to read. Not only were there no schools for them, it was against the law to teach them in most slave states. But learning finds a way. Some slave owners allowed their slaves to learn to read as part of Christian education, and some educators found interesting ways around the laws, including a floating school on the Mississippi River.

My point here is that all cultures and races have fought at some point for the right to read and write, and in an era such as the one Americans are going through right now, we need to preserve every last bit of that right. Our president threatens social media and the press, bookstores in Minnesota are battered by protestors and looters, and all of this is happening against a backdrop where independent bookstores and small presses are struggling for survival anyway.

So my plea is this: Don’t be part of the forces that would oppress you and take the light of knowledge away. Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.

Today’s anti-information, non-factual age is a dangerous one for local bookstores, the media and science. In the end, it is up to us to make certain our heritage and ways of life are preserved. Protect what generations of every culture have fought for. Keep our bookstores open.

Poem: Why He Knelt (for Colin)

Why He Knelt (for Colin)

By Michelle Garren Flye

A man kneels in a green field.

Father, help me find the way

To fight the power they wield,

To make them know what they

Don’t fathom: simply why I kneeled.

Years pass and he is condemned

To life, but not on the stage he sought.

Until the news is overwhelmed

By the injustices he warned about—

And we recall what he did contend.

Kneeling at work seems little enough

When you look at the news today.

His gentle defiance is practically fluff

And a much less destructive way.

(Ignored injustice can get rough.)

What can you do now, you plead.

What service can you provide?

Listen to what they cry and heed—

It may be time to take a side,

And in the black earth, plant the seed.

And if all else fails to satisfy

To your knees you should fall.

The act we can’t expect to justify,

But what we can do is simply all

Kneel and know exactly why.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Rain and Shine (for Chris)

Rain and Shine

By Michelle Garren Flye

When did it rain?

I never heard thunder

Or wind or raindrops.

When did they fall?

It must have happened

Behind the scenes

While we were busy

Doing something else.

Something important.

Raising kids, living life,

Paying bills…surviving.

I didn’t know it rained.

Just like so many other

Things have happened

In the background.

It’s funny how you start:

Focused on each other,

Certain nothing will change.

But then it does.

Work and family and life

All change you.

And rain falls unnoticed

Until you see the puddles,

And then you notice the wet

And open an umbrella.

Only then do I see

A gardenia has bloomed.

Sometime in the night

It burst from the bud

In pure and splendid beauty.

Would it have bloomed

If the rain hadn’t come?

If we’d watched all day

In the sun, would it appear?

I don’t even know if it matters.

Drops of rain cling to the petals,

Magnifiying a single ray of sun.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Happy 25th and 18th: An anniversary, a book and a poem.

Today is, in a very real way, a very big day for me. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary and the day I officially release my 18th book.

Thank you.

It’s hard to celebrate right now, as I have good reason to know. My 50th birthday fell right at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. My son and my daughter also have celebrated birthdays. Today I have no actual plans to celebrate. I once envisioned a busy day full of well wishing friends for both my book and my marriage. I mean, not as many people make it to their silver wedding anniversary as used to, right? And quite a few authors never see 18 books with their name on the front.

But celebrating is hard right now. People are still sick, still dying. I’m working hard to make sure I’m not one of them. I have nightmares that my family is. And life goes on.

And still, I am happy to announce the publication of my 18th book, Magic at Sea, the seventh book of my Sleight of Hand series (and still a standalone, so you can read it even if you haven’t kept up with the series!). And I am happier still to be married to the same wonderful man for twenty-five years. Rain or shine, we’ve had them both.

Rain or Shine

By Michelle Garren Flye

When did it rain?

I never heard thunder

Or wind or raindrops.

When did they fall?

It must have happened

Behind the scenes

While we were busy

Doing something else.

Something important.

Raising kids, living life,

Paying bills…surviving.

I didn’t know it rained.

Just like so many other

Things have happened

In the background.

It’s funny how you start:

Focused on each other,

Certain nothing will change.

But then it does.

Work and family and life

All change you.

And rain falls unnoticed

Until you see the puddles,

And then you notice the wet

And open an umbrella.

Happy anniversary to my patient, supportive, loving husband. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: Wheee! (Happy birthday to my daughter)

Wheee!

By Michelle Garren Flye

You test the top of the slide

And yell, “It’s slippery, Mommy!”

At first I think you’re scared to try,

But next thing I hear is “Wheee!”

I know how right you are.

Time is slippery, too, I think.

Each second echoes in my heart

But they pass within a wink.

My child, you’re growing too fast—

I know soon you’ll need to be free.

I feel I’m watching you slip past

And all I hear is “Wheee!”

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Living in a fantasy world

I do live in a fantasy world a lot of the time, so I know what I’m talking about here. Writers mostly do. You may see us grocery shopping or taking our cars for service or dropping the kids off for school, but that reality doesn’t mean we’re not living in our fantasy world, figuring out plotlines, talking to our characters, considering story arcs…

Until reality impinges on fantasy and we have to face it.

Recently I’ve felt more and more that it’s the opposite in my corner of the world, at least. Fantasy is impinging on reality. Because we don’t want to deal with reality, we create fantasy. Covid-19 doesn’t exist. It was made up. It’s not going to kill anyone we love because so many people survive it, it’s just like the flu. There are only 40 or 60 or 100 or 200 cases in my community, and nobody I know has it, so I won’t get it. Masks don’t protect you. It was 5G that caused it.

Reality is scary right now, yes, but not facing it is scarier because you know what I’ve found from living in a fantasy land a lot of the time? Reality will force you to face it eventually. You do have to come out of the clouds and pay the bills or your power gets turned off. You gotta scoop the cat litter or it gets stinky. Right now I’m wearing scratched glasses because going to the eye doctor is too much reality.

And if we don’t face the frightening reality of covid-19 as a community, we’re going to regret it. All of us.

I hate wearing a mask, but I do it.

Poem: Wisdom of the Baby Bird

Wisdom of the Baby Bird

By Michelle Garren Flye

Like an eagle or hawk soaring

We want to leap into the sky!

We don’t know what waits;

We just know we want to fly.

Hawks dive onto their prey,

Seagulls wheel above the sea,

Eagles may drift along drafts

Our senses cannot perceive.

Maybe turn our eyes instead

To the baby bird in the nest.

Standing precariously on the edge—

He’s waiting, not taking a rest.

Take a leap of faith—oh yes, let’s do!

But only when the time is right.

Stretch the wings out first—

Take a short practice flight.

Only then will we grow stronger,

Only then will we avoid a plunge

Headfirst into a maelstrom

Of dangers we cannot dodge.

Juvenile owl waiting the right moment to fly. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye
Pissed Mama Osprey. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

It’s Magnolia Time (poem): Mourning the loss of refuge

My bookstore has been a lot of things for me from the time I took it over in January. The realization of a lifelong dream. A haven. A happy place for me, and I hoped, the art community and book lovers in my town. One thing I didn’t want it to become was a place of negativity, and I refused from the beginning to allow politics in the door.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, but the worst for me so far is that it has taken that from me. In order to preserve a healthy workspace for myself and avoid the potential of taking home something horrible to my family, I asked that my customers wear masks in the store. When it became obvious just the asking wouldn’t work, I began requiring them. If a customer arrived without one, I provided a simple handmade one to them. My customers were very agreeable about this. I began to relax. I began to believe that the people in my town, regardless of personal beliefs, were well bred enough to honor my rule.

Yesterday, that belief was shattered. A customer turned away when I told them masks were required in the store. Another argued with me that masks did no good, using talking points I’ve heard on conservative news outlets. The CDC has an agenda. Cloth masks are useless and will only hold germs against your own face, not protect you. I didn’t tell him that was the point, that I wanted him to keep his germs to himself. I asked him to leave.

And that’s when my store stopped being a refuge. I went home and cried because I’d never intended for this to happen there. I hate that it has happened. I hate that potential customers who might enjoy the otherwise welcoming atmosphere in my little store may now just go to Amazon or Books a Million. I hate it, but I can’t help it.

And so today I mourn the loss of the chance to share my refuge. I will continue to require masks until the danger of COVID-19 is gone. I realize many won’t come into the store if I do. I will miss them.

It’s Magnolia Time

By Michelle Garren Flye

Yesterday she was just a bud,

But today she’s purest wonder

against leaves of darkest green—

out of reach of all but the worthy.

It’s magnolia time now, folks,

and she knows what that means.

She’s got the strength she needs

to survive the stormiest weather.

The toughest of flowers, nothing

easy or giving in her breast.

She reigns above your head

because magnolias won’t be plucked.

A gale won’t blow her down,

no man’s hand can push her around.

She’s here to stay, so get used to it

because it’s magnolia time.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye