Just make a left

Do you ever just wish you could stop following all the rules?

I know I do. I see other people doing it. In the carpool lane when it’s obvious there’s a faster way than the long line of cars leading to the proper exit. Just make a left instead of a right. You’ll get out a lot faster.

Forget the rules.

Who’s gonna care?

Ah, but I’m a rule follower. It’s about honesty in my opinion. There are no shortcuts. No legal ones, anyway. No honest ones.

It’s like that in my writing as well. If I’m writing a haiku, it’s going to have the proper number of syllables in each line. I know even haiku master Matsuo Basho said if it’s better with the wrong number of syllables, it’s better to write it that way, but I’d rather write and rewrite and rethink and restructure until I’m happy with it. Because I have to follow the rules.

I was considering entering a poetry contest with some of my villanelles. (I’m that pleased with how they’re coming out.) This contest had a section for traditional rhyming poetry, something few editors have an appreciation for. I was encouraged, so I looked up some of their past winners. One of them was a “villanelle”. I pulled it up and read it.

It broke all the rules.

There were no rhymes where there were supposed to be rhymes.

There were no repeated lines or even words.

It was written in paragraph form.

What’s the fun of that? It’s like writing a short story and calling it a haiku. There’s no challenge. I remember my father saying something that has stuck with me for most of my life, “You can call it whatever you want, it doesn’t make it that.”

Hey judges, it’s not a villanelle if it doesn’t follow the rules.

I’m going to keep plugging along writing my haiku and villanelles and following rules. I have no idea why. I could break the rules and write a paragraph and call it a villanelle. I could write a novel and call it a haiku. I might even win some contests that way. But I won’t.

It’s just that I’m a rule follower.

Villanelle #21

Just make a left instead of right!
It'll get you there much faster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Nobody's gonna care if you take flight
and look for a greener pasture.
Just make a left instead of a right.

I don't mean to make light;
I'm certainly not your master,
and your schedule's really tight

No one can really know your plight.
It can't possibly lead to disaster
if you make a left instead of a right

Rules are not always right.
They're not molded in plaster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Perhaps you'll never feel Karma's bite
graze rear skin of alabaster.
Just make a left instead of a right—
after all, your schedule's really tight.

—Michelle Garren-Flye
Fall is around the corner. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Just a funny little story about the truth behind dishonesty.

I’m very busy right now writing Island Magic, the next in my Sleight of Hand series, but I wanted to take a break and tell you a story (almost entirely true, I swear) about something that happened to me this weekend.

First of all, meet Freddy, my Yorkie. He’s my life coach, my best friend, and, at times, my muse. Or at least he lets me bounce ideas off him when there’s nobody else around to listen. Freddy doesn’t say much, but he does let me know when it’s time to take a break, and I’ve found my walks with him can help clear the fuzzies out of my head better than just about anything else.

On one of these recent walks, Freddy and I are walking along minding our own business when a woman we’ve never met suddenly greets us with great enthusiasm.

I admit, I wasn’t sure she was talking to me. Freddy’s the one who attracts the most attention on our walks. And even I am bad about looking at the dog before I look at the owner most of the time. However, this woman not only waved and called, but actually crossed the road to speak to us. Okay, I’m bad with names but I’m not bad with faces, and I was pretty sure I’d never seen this woman in my life. I shot Freddy a suspicious glare and he protested his innocence by barking and sniffing the woman’s feet.

“Oh my, she’s getting big, isn’t she?” The woman laughed at Freddy’s antics.

Okay, that settled it. The woman didn’t know us. Freddy’s all boy except he’s been snipped and doesn’t really think of himself that way anymore. But what was the harm in letting the woman call Freddy a she? It didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother him. And we didn’t know this woman anyway.

In spite of this, we chatted a good two or three minutes before I finally made motions to leave. At this point, the woman taught me a valuable lesson. Making a face, she said in a confidential voice as if talking about something shameful, “You know, there’s a little boy Yorkie in the neighborhood too.” She peered at Freddy as if afraid he’d grow little boy parts. Then she nodded, satisfied. “But she just looks like a girl.”

Honestly, I could have sunk through the ground right then. Half of me wanted to own up to the fact that I’d basically lied to her the entire time we’d been standing there discussing Yorkies. The other half was terribly afraid she’d be mortified by her mistake. Escpecially after she’d pretty much let on that little boy Yorkies were something distasteful. I managed to make my escape much more gracefully than normal, however. “Well, after they’ve been fixed, it really doesn’t matter much, does it?” I laughed and waved and fled, Freddy in tow.

Being who I am, of course, I made the whole incident up into something quite philosophical by the time I got home. If I’d gently corrected the woman in the beginning, I might have avoided that particular awkwardness, and, I wondered, were there other aspects of my life I could apply this to? If I start out right on other things, will it finish up better? I’m always telling my kids that we follow rules—even those that we see other people breaking—because we don’t want to make the people around us feel badly.

Maybe I need to follow my own advice sometimes.