A List for Looking Back, a Poem for Looking Forward

Sometimes life just decides to take a bite out of our lives, our happiness, our capacity to feel joy. That was my 2021.

I’m trying to fight back by leaving the loss of joy behind me with the change of the year. But I can’t help looking back. Even as I know that’s not where joy is going to come from.

There are many reasons I can’t stop peeking into the rearview mirror of life. Unresolved issues. Unspoken words. A plethora of both unwarranted and earned emotions.

But as I steal glances into my recent past, I see some bright spots, too, even if they were tinged with the grey of all of the above.

  • Becoming the Heart of the Pamlico Poet Laureate
  • Earning some much-deserved recognition for my bookstore (check out the January 2022 issue of Our State Magazine!)
  • Publishing two illustrated poetry books (UnSong and 100 Warm Days of Haiku) and two issues of The Next Chapter Litearary Magazine
  • Deepening friendships and making new ones
  • Learning (through necessity) I can do more than I ever gave myself credit for—and enjoying it!

It’s impossible to know what’s coming in 2022. If there’s one thing the past two years have taught us, it’s that. But I’m choosing to believe that whatever is in my rearview mirror, joy is still out there for me. Somewhere on the horizon ahead.

I’m calling this one Truth.

Us artsy types have a hard time owning our talents. It feels like bragging. So we wait for others to validate us with reviews or compliments. But those waits can be a long time coming because those who aren’t artsy aren’t necessarily going to notice us.

That’s why authors have such a hard time with promotion. (Nobody wants to hear me talking about my books all the time. It’ll just get on their nerves.)

That’s why artists can all too often be convinced to give away their work. (I’m just happy it’s going to a good home and will be appreciated.)

It’s not fair, you know. Nobody asks a doctor to provide free medical service because it’s what they’re good at and doctors would just laugh if they did. Because it’s a business they’ve worked hard to be a part of.

Well, so is art. So is writing. So are any number of other creative ventures. At least, we’d like them to be.

Someone once compared my style of graphic art to an adult coloring book. And I let them. Well, no more. Because it’s more than that and I’m determined to own it. To demonstrate that I’m giving you the original picture I traced onto the iPad and the final product. I’m calling this one Truth.

Taking Steps: A Poetry Reading About Winter

As a poet laureate, I’m supposed to be spreading my love of poetry far and wide. As someone who is less than enamored with the sound of her own voice, this is a difficult charge for me. However, as I take this position seriously, today I impulsively decided to record a short poetry reading and post it on social media. I selected two poems about winter. The first is, ahem, not mine but by a poet you might recognize. The second is mine, one of my favorites that I wrote last year about this time. The video below is of the impromptu reading I conducted in my bookstore. It’s the first in my series, Poetry Readings, which will be posted on my Instagram account, michellegflye.

Grateful

Last night I saw this rose blooming by my doorstep.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

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.

Happy thanksgiving.

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: Invitation by Michelle Garren Flye

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.

Maybe now I should start writing warm poetry?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But I did write one today. And here it is.

Copyright 2021 Michelle Garren Flye

Poet Laureate: Another dream come true

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.

Graphic courtesy Pamlico Writers Group.

I’m writing FICTION again

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.

Self-affirming self portrait. By Michelle Garren Flye Copyright 2021.

Poem: The Tiger

A companion piece (or sequel?) to “Dead Dragon”

The Tiger

By Michelle Garren Flye

There’s a tiger in my heart

Pacing and guarding,

Keeping me safe.

He banished the dragon—

The one you abandoned

And left to its fate.

I love my tiger.

His growl seems to say,

You got this, little one,

I’m here to the end.

You got this, you’re strong

And you know it now.

And I do know it, because—

(You want to know why?)

Not everyone can hold

A tiger in her heart.

Copyright 2021 Michelle Garren Flye