Poem: Unstoppable (an ode to art)

When this whole coronavirus thing started, I mourned the theaters closing down, the canceled basketball seasons, the silenced concerts. In my mind, art is what makes us all who we are, whether we make it, appreciate it or resist it. That’s why repressive regimes cut art funding. That’s why freedom of expression is the first freedom lost and the last to be regained. Art pushes boundaries governments don’t want to be pushed, and when it’s given up voluntarily as it has been in the Covid-19 crisis, I sometimes worry it won’t return easily.

And yet.

Art is still happening. Theaters are finding ways to stream plays. Musicians are offering live stream concerts. Sports fanatics are getting their fix by watching classic games. And this got me started thinking. Art has always found a way. It always will.

Unstoppable (an ode to art)

By Michelle Garren Flye

It squeezes through the cracks.

Look there, at that wall, solid brick

Built to contain, to hold back, to keep out.

Sturdy and solid, at least eight inches thick…

But don’t lose concentration, don’t turn your backs!

I tell you, if you do, it will creep through the cracks.

It’ll ooze through the tiniest of the littlest of spaces.

And what harm can that do, I can just hear you ask.

What harm can a little bit do, even in the worst cases?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s likes poison in snacks.

It’s the sneakiest of things, when it slides through the cracks.

No one understands just how serious it is.

It will decay all our rules, promote thought and reflection.

That kind of thing will spell the end of all this.

Maybe it’s time we start to make tracks.

You can still stop it! Maybe pile sticks into stacks?

Or chew up some gum to stop the hole fast?

As a last measure, you can hold it back with your hands?

But you’ll feel it squeezing, creeping, oozing past…

There’s no way to keep art from getting through the cracks.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Out of focus

Focusing on one thing at a time makes it difficult to see the big picture. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Today I sat in my silent bookstore hoping for the phone to ring with someone wanting to take advantage of my Covid-19 remote shopping option. The silence is of my own making. I closed to the public at the end of last week. It felt like the right thing to do.

It’s very difficult right now to know what the right thing to do is because it’s difficult to know what to focus on. Medical experts who say this epidemic will not end well if we don’t continue to isolate ourselves? Government hopefuls who expect real life to echo the movies and miracle cures to materialize out of thin air? Economic brains who anticipate the further shutdown of the economy to be more catastrophic than thousands of deaths?

And truly, it’s hard to see the true danger. It’s invisible until it hits you or someone you love. The medical community understands this. They’ve given us the tools to defend ourselves (wash hands, don’t touch face, remain socially distant), but they warn if we don’t use them, the effects will be devastating.

The truth is, though, this silent and invisible enemy will be the most devastating one we’ve ever faced if we don’t listen to facts. Scientific facts—something we’ve been trained to disbelieve in our recent alternative fact universe—are what can save us, but how likely are we as humans to listen now that so much is at stake? Our lives depend on it, but are our pocketbooks more important?

What do we focus on? We can’t focus on any one thing, really. We have to see the whole picture. All at once and from every angle. And know that what we don’t see—the invisible—can harm us.

Save Freedom of the Press: Quash the whackjob media


By Uberto from Pavia, Italia (edicola esplosa foto 2°) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A few months ago I wrote a post about my fears for the marketplace of ideas and what that could mean to today’s free press (There’s Something Rotten in the Marketplace of Ideas). I’m not insensible to the fact that this has been going on for a long time. Somehow we’ve allowed conspiracy theorists out of their carefully marked “whackjob” corner and into mainstream consciousness.

Today I read an article in The Washington Post (Want to Save the Republican Party? Drain the Right-Wing Media Swamp.) The author calls out many ideas that should be whackjob conspiracy theories and instead are actually believed by many in the Republican party. Things like voter fraud, that global warming is a myth perpetrated by scientists looking to make money, and the crowning achievement of the right-wing media: Birtherism.

What is so frightening about these ideas is that it is almost impossible to quash them unless you actually do purge the sources or—as the author of the Post article calls it—drain the swamp. Yet that goes against the very tenet that we must all protect above all else: Freedom of the Press. For once our press falls under government regulation, all freedoms may go along with it.

Freedom of the Press is based on the idea that misinformation will not gain footing in an enlightened society. An enlightened society will reject what is not true, thereby allowing the truth to shine through. But the conspiracy theories and misinformation are spreading, helped along by politicians who use them for political gain simply by refusing to disavow them. This sickness isn’t confined to the right wing anymore, either. Liberal websites that spread propaganda and outright lies are popping up, too.

BuzzFeed (yes, BuzzFeed, which is becoming a news service to rival AP) conducted a study of misinformation presented on Facebook as fact (Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages are Publishing False and Misleading Information at an Alarming Rate). The study found that right-wing Facebook pages were far more likely to spread rumors and lies as fact than mainstream media, but liberal, left-wing Facebook pages were not far behind.

So what does this mean? In a world where information is free and independent of government regulation, can we believe anything we read/see/hear in our Marketplace of Ideas? Thomas Jefferson said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” I believe he meant that every man who reads the news must be capable of distinguishing fact from fiction. In other words, we must demand the truth from our media and be willing to turn our backs on those who do not back up their information with facts. In a world where our politicians are unwilling to tell us when we’re being fed lies, we must search out the truth ourselves.

And if Thomas Jefferson thought we could do that, then for the love our country, we need to try harder. We must put the whackjobs back into the corner or risk losing the right to a free and independent media—and the truth.