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.

Reflections on the darkest day of the year

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Happy darkest day of the year

Today is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and, in my mind, the day of change. Hopefully for the better. Last year on this day, I got the idea to write children’s books. This year, I’ve written two. Jessica Entirely and Jessica Naturally, the first two books of my Jessica series, are now published and being consumed. Of course, to do that, I had to create a new identity as my romances are definitely not for kids. Thus was born Shelley Gee.

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I have also written a good bit of poetry this year. I like that. I published my first poetry booklet, Times and Ties, which I dedicated to a friend who passed away unexpectedly and tragically. I still miss you, Pam. You were a staunch supporter of my writing, especially my poetry. (By the way, I’m working on getting this booklet online. For now, it’s only available for purchase at our local small bookstore, The Next Chapter Books and Art.

For Pam

By Michelle

 

Oh my brain just couldn’t comprehend

But my treacherous heart heard the news

And held it close and took it in

 

Oh today is gray because you’ve left

Taking your light and helpful spirit

And you won’t be coming around

 

And oh my heart keeps reminding me

You’re gone.

 

Oh my friend what you’ve left behind

Has more value than words can say

More than most with twice the time

 

Oh the legacy of a loving life

The warm work of hands that care

Reminds us we’ll see the sun shine

 

But oh my heart keeps telling me

You’re gone.

 

Last year, I also took about six months of singing lessons, landed a spot in the choir for our local theatre’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and accepted a spot on the board of our other local theatre. So I’m exploring a whole new arena of storytelling.

What will this next year hold for me? Well, I took a bit of a break from my romances in order to accomplish all this, and I’m eager to get back to it. Magic at Sea is calling me. I plan to answer that call today. After all, what better way to celebrate the return of light to the world than by writing about love? Beyond that? I know I’ll be writing more about little Jessica. I hope to be in more theatre and I know I’ll be behind the scenes for more. Tonight, I’ll light a fire and a few candles and think hard about how to make it all happen.

What about you? What will the light bring you?

For more ideas about how to celebrate the winter solstice, check out this website: https://rhythmsofplay.com/ways-to-celebrate-the-winter-solstice-2/

Also, my book Winter Solstice is still available from Lyrical Press:

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What is Utopia?

As a writer, I get to imagine things all the time, but one thing for me has always been sort of amorphous. What, exactly, would Utopia be like? I can imagine a place with green fields where everyone does their fair share, but eventually I start seeing flaws in the system. For instance, I don’t like working outdoors, I tend to kill plants, and I hate bugs. Would I be expected to help grow crops the same way my brother, who has a green thumb, would? And as a librarian, I wonder, would people who don’t care about books be expected to help me take care of them? How can you be a caretaker for something you have no care for? Who’s making all these rules, anyway?

Usually, I end up deciding I’d rather just retreat onto a mountaintop or desert island with the people I love most and have supplies air dropped to me. But what kind of liberal does that make me if I can’t even picture a Utopia that works?

Today I read this wonderful opinion column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times called Watership Down and the Crisis of Liberalism and I practically clapped my hands. If you’ve never read Watership Down, the classic tale by Richard Adams, you must. Go get a copy. I’ll wait. Okay, maybe not, because it is like 500 pages long, but Watership Down was a masterpiece, and Douthat hits the nail on the head with what makes a true Utopia and how Adams created one with this sentence:

And what makes the regime the rabbits are founding good — and successful, but first and foremost good — is the integration of the different virtues, the cooperation of their different embodiments, their willing subordination to one another as circumstances require.

Bam. Right there. Each rabbit that embarks on the quest to found a new home after they lost their old home to ecoterrorism (a subdivision) has a unique skill that they offer to the group. The leader, the strong, the religiously gifted, the athletic, the intelligent, the creative—all have something to offer the group.

So that’s what Utopia is to me. It’s a world in which we all have our unique gifts and they’re all valued. Imagine a world where you could find your gift and pursue it and contribute to the world in your own way. If a teacher’s offering of education, a doctor’s offering of healing, a policeman’s offering of safety, a politician’s offering of governing, a writer’s offering of…whatever we offer—it was all valued. Every skill, from acting to playing a sport or inventing, all the way to trash collecting and housecleaning.

Isn’t that what we all want? A world we can live in without fear of someone taking what is ours? Our job, our belongings, our happiness. In a world where everyone already had theirs, maybe that wouldn’t be such a problem. To me, that is Utopia.

(Side note: The only other place I’ve ever seen a Utopia that looks like it could work is Starfleet in the Star Trek universe.)

But what is Utopia to you? In our highly divided culture today, maybe this isn’t what everyone wants. Utopian dreams come to us all, though. I’d love to hear yours.

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Utopian perfection? Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

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?