Last night I saw this rose blooming by my doorstep.
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.
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.
It’s ironic that the coldest part of my life thus far fell during the summer I was writing 100 Warm Days of Haiku, but that’s the way life works sometimes, I suppose. At any rate, this cool fall morning I woke up and realized I felt warm again. I can’t tell you why. Again, I suppose it’s just the way life and the heart work.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what happened yesterday. It was a day full of emotions. A long-anticipated day, actually. In more ways than one.
Yesterday I achieved a dream. I am now the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate. I applied for the position in 2020 but the award was held off due to covid. As it turned out, that was a blessing for me. It allowed me to become more serious about my poetry. It allowed me to accept that I am a poet.
Understand that I do not have a Masters of Fine Arts. I am not a teacher of poetry. Up until 2020 I’d only ever dabbled in poetry. Since then, poetry has become a way of life for me. When a line of poetry flashes into my mind, I follow it. Once upon a time I might have brushed it off. Sometimes these lines become poems.
I’ve always written poetry by feel. Sometimes it rhymes, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I use literary devices like alliteration, sometimes I don’t. The rhythm is almost always instinctive. I’ll go back and rework it until it feels right, but I can’t always tell you why.
My one absolute belief is that poetry comes from the heart. It’s part of me. It’s nonfiction. I write plenty of fiction, so I definitely know the difference. My poetry (at least the poems that work), and all the poetry I’ve ever related to, is nonfiction, a part of my soul that I put out there for the world to accept or reject.
As Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate, I’m hoping to spread the word about poetry and its value as an art form. I will do this with pride because I am a poet. I will do this with humility because I am part of a community with so much to say to the world. And I will do it with love because that is what I want to feel coming back to me.
Grief does weird things to your psyche, but if you’re a writer, it can destroy creativity. That’s because writing fiction is just dreaming. And dreaming, at least about good stuff, is hard when you’re grieving.
Due to recent upheaval in my personal life, I haven’t written fiction in several months. I was grieving and I couldn’t concentrate on anything but that grief. Dreams seemed like a thing of the distant past. Life sucked and it seemed like it always would.
But grief passes. Or lightens, at least. For me, that happened recently. It followed close on the heels of both acceptance and the conscious decision to let go. It didn’t happen instantly. In fact, I hit rock bottom before I was able to let go of the great rock of grief that was dragging me down.
And this week, I started dreaming again. My future is still foggy and uncertain, but steps are being made and they’re all going up. Fortunately, I’m strong and I know I’ll get to the top. I’ll make it there. Eventually. Even if I sometimes have to pause on the way or even take a step back.
In the meantime, dreaming and writing are a definite step forward for me.
Earlier this week, I finished formatting 100 Warm Days of Haiku. Ordinarily, this is where I would begin asking friends and fellow writers to look at it for me. Read and critique the poems, be sure the order makes sense. Look at the pictures and tell me if any of them need to be changed at all.
But the more I thought about what this book is, the more I realized that was not something I needed or wanted to do. This book is different. This book is true.
I have always wondered why poetry is classified as nonfiction, but after writing this book, I realize that has always been true. Poetry captures what is going on in the soul of its writer in a way that cannot be denied.
My 100 haiku were written and illustrated over the course of a four month period stretching from April 1 to July 31, 2021. To put it bluntly, this time period involvedogreat deal of change and upheaval for me personally, and that upheaval is reflected in this collection. There is anger, sorrow, beauty, love, loss and loneliness in this book. And there is also hope.
To give you an idea, here’s the description from the back of the book:
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it worth seventeen syllables? Poet Michelle Garren Flye explores the ancient form of Japanese poetry during three months of spring and summer. The book follows the author on a journey of change and transformation that she didn’t expect when she undertook the task, using the spare format of the haiku and her colorful illustrations to express emotions and desires that emerge from the chrysalis of her heart.
As I got closer to the end of the book, I tried to figure out how I would end it. I have never yet ended a book on a sour note. I’m not a tragic writer, and in spite of emotional upheaval, I am not a tragic person. I won’t spoil it, but I am so very proud of the final illustration, I thought I might share that with you:
For more information, you can find 100 Days of Haiku on Amazon.
I’m so close to being done with 100 Warm Days of Haiku! It will be my longest poetry book yet. And my most unique book of any genre. I’m excited to share it, and I hope you’ll be excited, too. It’s a book meant for looking at as much as reading. Even UnSong didn’t really manage that.
So I guess the very reasonable question would be why am I publishing a book that’s as much to look at as to read? I’m an author, not an artist, a poet, not a painter.
Short answer? I like to challenge myself. I like to be more. Long answer? This has been a complicated year in which I came to know a lot of interesting things about myself. I mean, none of us has had an easy year, right? Pandemic, home schooling, isolation, mask-wearing…it’s all a bit much. Add any other complications into the mix and you’ve got the makings of a good, old-fashioned nervous breakdown. And who didn’t have other complications?
My answer for the complications in my life was to dig deeper to find more. I found a lot. And 100 Warm Days of Haiku is my way of sharing it with you. So stay tuned for more information.
I completed 100 Warm Days of Haiku on July 31, 2021. It wasn’t what I started it out to be. If you remember, back in April, I started out full of hope and happiness. I wanted to write something cheerful to bring hope and happiness to the world in a time of darkness.
Well, best laid plans may never be realized. This summer has been a dark, cold one for me. The darkest and coldest I have ever experienced. Some would say I am lucky that this is so. I probably am. I am well and alive. The people I love are well and alive. And yet.
So my beautiful book is not what I wanted it to be. It became a sort of journal of my grief and loss. Haiku is not an easy form. Easy enough to write the correct number of syllables, not so easy to make them have meaning. I believe my life experience this summer gave an unexpected depth to the simple 17-syllable format of each poem.
And there is hope there, too. I am an irrepressible, inveterate, persistent optimist, so of course there is hope. A tiny blossom perhaps, but hope nonetheless, blooming in the weeds of lonely sorrow.
And now I am off to the editing and formatting stages of bookmaking. I’m hoping to have this one out by the beginning to middle of September. But I have my work cut out for me.