Poem: Pinned

Pinned

By Michelle Garren Flye

Pins hurt, I remember. Pins stick in your skin when you put on a new shirt without checking. Crimson stains on ivory.

Why pin each other, then? Why pin those we love? Stay here. That’s your spot.

It hurts.

Why pin those unlike us? Stick them with scarlet letters. You’re not us. Stay away.

It hurts.

We do it anyway. Jab into flesh until blood comes. Pins like Judgment, like nails on the cross. Us. Other. With us, against us. Pins line up, sharpened stakes to keep us in or push us out.

I hold one in my hand, a dagger to slash and judge. Watch. The blood waits, pulsing, just beneath the sin.

Poem: For Tom (broken)

One of my heroes made the news for the wrong reasons this week, bringing home to me that all of us become less relevant as we age. Even the great ones.

For Tom (broken)

By Michelle Garren Flye

Don’t speak too loudly.

Stay out of their way.

Their edges are sharp and they will cut you,

Force you to retreat, retire.

Your own edges are worn—

Who is impressed by Woodstock anymore?

You didn’t win your wars.

Vietnam, civil rights.

Even the drug war is left for this generation to fight.

Compassion is round

In your hands, but

It turns flat in theirs—and shows only one side.

That side has edges

And they are used to cut.

So be careful, stay silent, keep clear and beware.

For the round and the soft,

The worn and the frayed

Have no place in the edgy world of the young.

Something in the light

There’s something about this time of year. Something about the light. Like things are clearer. More contrasted.

See what I mean?

Maybe we should be able to see more clearly, too.

If we look.

Look hard.

Look long.

Look deeper than you knew you could.

Even at the shiny things.

The beautiful.

The things you thought had only one face.

Earth has a soul. We are it. At this time of year when days are short but time is long, we can take stock, see if we are where we need to be. Make a u-turn if we’re not.

It’s humanity’s solstice too.

Writing “those” scenes in the age of #metoo

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Never has writing romance been more of a balancing act than it is now, at least if you want to be sensitive to the #metoo movement and yet still satisfy your readers’ cravings for romantic escapism. Let’s face it, first of all, the day of the alpha hero who demands what he wants from a simpering heroine is—or at least should be—over. Flirting that goes too far is also dangerous ground. And writing one of those scenes—sex, that is—well, that’s harder than ever, and writing good ones has never been easy.

If you take all that away from romance, you don’t have much left—though I admit I wave a cheerful good-bye to the alpha hero. But the rest? What is romance without anticipation, flirting, and, ultimately—because we are human—sex? At our cores, we are animals looking for a mate, and that’s what the whole romance genre is based on.

I struggled with this for a long time. I want to believe I’m a liberated liberal woman, but I believe in love and romance. I believe in the value of finding your soul mate and building a life together. The #metoo movement and the ugly stories I heard about things that have happened to women seeking that same thing made me rethink myself. I looked back at my past work and found a number of mistakes and missteps. How could I call myself a feminist if I wrote this?

I put away one work-in-progress without writing that scene for a few weeks, went back and wrote a very bad, almost robotic one with no feeling in it, and finally, a couple of weeks ago, did what I should have done in the first place. I examined my characters’ motivations, especially the heroine’s. Why did she want to have sex at this particular time, with this particular person? I knew she was going to leave him right after, so why did she decide on him in the first place? Once I had the answers, I wrote probably the best one of “those” scenes I’ve ever written.

My point, I suppose, is that romance is a genre in flux right now. I believe you’ll see fewer alpha heroes making demands and fewer simpering victim heroines. If authors of romance are willing to make a change, I think the genre has an opportunity to make an impact—to take us all on a journey away from the #metoo movement to a world where women and their partners can create a world that is safer for our daughters. And isn’t that a world worth escaping to?

Poem: He Asked the Moon

I often try to make sense of world events and reconcile them with a belief in a higher power with little actual success. For the past month the news has been reporting about the super blue blood moon as if it were either apocalyptic or the answer to all our prayers. I wasn’t fooled. I’ve been taken by that sort of thing before. It’s just a moon in the end.

But it made me think, and when I think, I often write. And so in honor of yesterday’s super blue blood (on the West coast) moon, and dedicated to anyone who’s ever wished on the moon with my sympathy:

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Super Moon and Street Lamp

He Asked the Moon

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

How do you judge us?

He asked the moon.

Hanging in the black sky, cold and alone…

From your vantage you see all—

You watch and you judge.

 

Why don’t you do something?

He implored the moon.

The wars, the famine, killing and fear…

The deaths of the innocents—

Your gaze never wavers.

 

Who are you, anyway?

He cried at the moon.

Your silence is deafening, your light so cold.

Your powers are limitless—

You control the sea’s dance!

 

What would you have me do?

Replied the moon at long last.

Your world is foolish, but it’s not my affair.

You think it’s my choice to watch

Your self-obliteration?

 

Look within for help, man,

Advised the moon with indifference.

Have you no fellows who feel as you do?

Appeal to them for relief—

I was never meant to care.

 

The Day After: Earth Day for the Rest of Us

Earth Day is over, so I feel a little safer making a confession. My carbon footprint is huge.

It’s not on purpose. I love animals. I’m concerned about the environment. I vote Democrat (although at times I’m not sure this helps a WHOLE heckuva lot). I truly believe that we humans damage the planet and someday we’ll regret it.

I also drive an SUV (mid-size, not huge) because I have three kids and when we’re on a family trip, that third-row seating is invaluable. And though I try to make it to the Farmer’s Market or stop at the roadside stands to buy local, it’s often more practical to buy my veggies at the grocery store (I do pay the extra buck for an organic avocado, though).

I’m repulsed by bugs and terrified by spiders, so I don’t garden. Well, except for container gardening. I have made a few ventures into that arena. I donate often to charities that say they support endangered wildlife, but I often wonder if their frequent mailings don’t use most of the money I send them. (I would opt out of that junk mail, but, really, have you tried to opt out of junk mail? It should be simple, but it’s really not.)

I make purchases from Amazon instead of going to the store. That way I can indulge my natural disinclination to make contact with other human beings. And I buy books. Lots of books. Because when the EMP goes off and ebooks are no longer available, I’m going to need something to read.

I feel guilty about these things I do wrong—and not just on Earth Day—but I can’t promise I will change. I probably won’t ride my bike to work or walk to the store because it’s impractical for me as a mother of three. However, in honor of Mother Earth, which I love even though I feel certain she will wreak her revenge on humans one day, I make three resolutions:

1. I will buy 99 percent of my wine from vineyards in North Carolina. When I don’t buy local, I’ll buy European wines because shipping from Europe causes less environmental damage than trucking across the U.S. from California.

2. I will buy organic produce as often as possible. Even when it’s not necessarily better for me, it’s better for the environment if it is grown by a farmer who doesn’t use poisonous pesticides that kill honeybees and other beneficial insects.

3. I will no longer renew or purchase magazine or newspaper subscriptions. These are unnecessary as most of them are available either free or for a comparable price online.

These are tiny things and many, many people could look at my life and tell me of SO many other places I could change to reduce my carbon footprint. And maybe I will, but for now, this is what Earth Day for the rest of us is like.

The Fear of the Last Word

Writers experience a whole cornucopia of emotions during the course of their careers—anxiety about deadlines, joy when we finish something, pride when we see our books on shelves or in the hands of others—but there is one emotion we avoid speaking of when it comes to our professional lives. Fear.

Fear that the last book really was our last.

Fear that our idea well has dried up and our muse has moved on.

Fear of the last word.

Paralyzing, engrossing, fascinating…fear.

Don’t look too close at the fear, we tell ourselves. If you believe in it, it will believe in you and that is bad news for your writing. But it’s so hard to look away from it! We don’t know where the ideas come from. Who’s to say they’ll keep coming? Who’s to say the angel of creativity might not turn his face away from us? If a writer tells you he doesn’t worry about this, he’s lying.

My very best work is accomplished when my muse sits on my shoulder and whispers it directly into my ear. It’s inspired, feverish, intense and very, very rare. Most often, I feel like I’m plodding through my story, pleading with my muse for something, anything. And I get messages back, but they’re more detached than those intimate whispers. Like emails. Or—if I’m lucky—a handwritten note on scented paper…and mailed from a great distance.

I know I haven’t written my last book. I have one waiting to be edited and I’m writing another one. But still, the last word—my last word—is out there somewhere. It hasn’t been written yet, but it will be. I just hope I write everything I want to write before I write that one.