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I haven’t unpublished said book.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… 😉

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 20 (National Poetry Month): Soul Snakes

Soul Snakes

By Michelle Garren Flye

There’s a barrel of snakes in the corner.

I’ve given each one a different name.

Take a look but do not get much warmer!

They are poison, this is not a game.

This one for instance, he is black and white.

I call him Prejudice for he can’t believe

Anything a bit different or unlike

Could be okay—he just can’t conceive.

His best bud is Racism, you can guess why.

Look there at the green ones, that’s Envy and Greed.

Wrath is a slippery one, he’s really too sly!

Indifference is this one, he ignores when you plead.

They’re all mixed up in my big melting pot,

Writhing and twisting, living in your heart.

(They usually find they can pick their spot.)

Decaying the human soul is their only art.

But look I have an experiment to show!

If I add this big one to the pot here

The others will ever more poison grow—

And that’s what you can expect from Fear.

Not a poisonous soul snake. Just a pretty little racer I saw this morning. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 17 (National Poetry Month): COVID-19

I considered titling this poem “Lasting Effects”, but I prefer the blatancy of this title instead.

COVID-19

By Michelle Garren Flye

Don’t do that, it will make you sick.

Don’t go out—don’t even try.

The virus is out there, it’s too quick,

You can’t outrun it, you can’t defy.

But what if it never ends?

What if we’re stuck this way?

There may be no amends

If the virus is here to stay.

Fear has found a place of assembly,

Even in the hearts of the brave.

Soldiers cannot fight this enemy,

And maybe there is nothing to save.

Maybe this is what we’ve earned

Through years of war and strife—

When we’ve never really learned

What’s important in life.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

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

high angle photo of person wearing shoes

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.

Poem: Teetering

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There’s no guardrail here.

A few days ago, I visited the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go, even if it was on my bucket list. The Grand Canyon is a bit of a challenge for someone with even a mild fear of heights, and I definitely have at least that. But I found once I got there that the paths were wide and I could walk on the side away from the canyon and enjoy the view.

My kids were another story entirely. It seemed they were intent on walking as close to the edge as I would allow. I was constantly calling or motioning them back from what seemed like a precipitous edge down which they were sure to fall. My oldest finally looked at me with exasperation and said, “You bring me to a big hole in the ground and tell me to stay away from the big hole in the ground!”

I laughed, but it’s true. I told him to stay away from the hole in the ground because I want to protect him. I don’t want him to fall.

Of course, while we were looking at the big hole in the ground, the United States teetered on the brink of far worse. We put our toes over the very edge of a very dark, deep hole waiting to drown us in war (and don’t fool yourself that it won’t be nuclear). We’re still balancing on the edge of that black pit, but it’s full of our sins just waiting to pull us in. Sins like helpless children held prisoner without decent beds or meals. Environmental regulations rolled back every day in favor of money. A clueless leader who has lost the respect of every nation on earth except those hoping to profit from his ignorance. And our blind eyes turned to all of it.

Remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a pool waiting to plunge in but not quite ready for the cold water to envelop your steaming skin? Remember the feel of the rough concrete beneath your feet as you leaned forward just a little more, spreading your arms for balance so you didn’t fall too soon but you might fall any minute?

Remember the moment your toes finally lost their grip and you plunged in before you were ready and the hopelessness of knowing the icy water would shock your skin and pull you down?

We’re teetering on the edge of something far worse now.

 

Teetering

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Toe slides…

Over the edge…

Arms spread…

Balanced,

But mindful.

 

Lean a little more—how far can we go?

How far before…

The balance

Slips?

And we

Fall?

 

Wobbling,

Swaying,

Sliding,

It may be

Fate,

But—

 

Who will see the plunge and watch us flatten the world?

Can anyone stop it?

Please?

No apologies: I write what I write.

close up of tree against sky

Romance is a window on the reader’s soul, not the writer’s. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a truth for most romance writers, I think. Our friends and family are almost afraid to read our books. As if they might find out something more about us than what they want.

Why don’t you write something else? I have this great idea for a book you could write.

It could be funny.

I could almost laugh.

Why am I amused? The reason is simple. Any good writing lays your soul bare because you do tell secrets about yourself. It’s the only real way to make your writing read true to another person’s soul. The trick is to write it so no one knows what is true and what is fiction. And I can guarantee you, even those who know me best don’t know what’s true and what’s fiction in my books.

I always say I’m never in my books. And it’s true. I’m not a character in my books. But I am in there. I’m in every word and phrase I write. When you hold my book, you are holding a part of my soul. Is it a window onto my everyday wants and desires and loves? No. Like all writing, and especially fiction, my words are filtered through the reader’s experiences and is more likely to reveal something about them than me.

I guess that’s why I say, no apologies. I write what I write. If you  have the courage to read it, that’s great. If not, please understand when I chuckle a little when you suggest I write something different. I love you, but my visceral answer to such a suggestion is an unequivocal “no.”

In other news…

I’m on Book Reviews by Jasmine today promoting Becoming Magic by talking about what I’d do on my day off if I worked in show business in Hollywood. As you might expect, it’s magical!

And on Smashwords and its affiliates, Close Up MagicBook 1 in the Sleight of Hand series, is FREE just in time for the holidays! Read it if you dare!

Fear Waits By My Computer

grayscale photography of human skull

Photo by ahmed adly on Pexels.com

I get up. I send the kids off to school. I grab a cup of coffee. I go to my office.

I say good morning to Fear.

Fear waits for me by my desk every morning.

Good morning, he says. Are you ready?

I am. I sit down behind my computer and push Fear away. He’ll breathe down my neck if I don’t. 

And I type, ferociously and as unbrokenly as I can manage because if I stop, Fear is waiting.

Fear is patient.

Are you sure that’s the right way to put that? He lingers at my shoulder. Then he shrugs. Never mind. Nobody reads your stuff, anyway.

You should’ve started writing novels earlier instead of that short story crap. Ten years earlier and you’d have an agent and been able to sell your stuff instead of messing around with this self-publishing thing. It’s just vanity press by a different name.

You should really get an agent, but agents don’t like what you write, do they?

Fear has a grip on me now, so he is confident enough to walk away a little. He looks back at me and shakes his head. Why did you quit your day job? Oh yeah, to be a mom. But you could get a real job now. Maybe you should. 

And now Fear has a little friend. Self-Doubt holds his hand, and is somehow more frightening than Fear himself. 

What’s the problem? Fear says. Are you afraid if you stop writing you’ll be just another regular Joe?

Maybe you already are, whispers Self-Doubt. Maybe you always have been.

Note: So far this month, I have defeated both Fear and Self-Doubt. I’m at 48,254 words of the National Novel Writing Month book. Take THAT Fear and Self-Doubt!

 

Starting an email list: An act of courage

Remember your eighth grade dance? We called them sock hops. I say eighth grade because it was late enough in the game so you didn’t go to dances just to run around and play with your friends, but early enough (for most of us) so you weren’t real confident about your appeal to the opposite sex. What was the one thought that haunted you?

What if no one asks me to dance?

Well, here I am a forty-something struggling writer with thirteen novels under my belt and I find myself confronted by the same exact thought. It’s not a sock hop this time, though, and it’s not my sex appeal that worries me. But still…

What if no one asks me to dance?

You see I’m starting an email list intended to promote my books, my poetry, my blog—my art. But what if no one signs up for it? What if my effort is rejected and I become a pretty little wallflower that no one wants to dance with?

And yet, that’s the chance all artists take when they put themselves and their work out there. You might be rejected. You probably will be, actually. If you believe enough, you persevere.

So, to sweeten the deal a bit and make it less likely that I’m left standing in the corner while everyone dances around me, I’m adding a little weight to the scales. Sign up for my email newsletter before January 1 and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card, the winner of which will be announced in the first newsletter. If you’ve already signed up, you’re already entered. Here’s the link to my landing page for you to sign up: Email List Signup.

So go ahead, ask me to dance. What have you got to lose?