Poem 7 (National Poetry Month): Mother’s Storm

April 7, 2020

Mother’s Storm

By Michelle Garren Flye

The storm hit us finally, with a smack—

A big, backhanded, whack.

We didn’t know quite what to think.

Why would Mother do us this way?

Why cast us into the fray?

Why would she push us to the brink?

And yet rain poured, and the water rose.

We were in it up to our nose.

And the storm, we found, was the link.

We figured out Mother wasn’t just mad,

No, our Mother was downright bad.

She wanted to blind us, wanted us to sink.

That’s not in a mother’s nature, it is true,

But when she’s thrown askew,

Mother Nature will kill without a blink.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

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

Juneau moonlight

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.

fullsizeoutput_7206

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:

wintersolstice cover

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.

P+HJCTX2GkIW5TG4EzA

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

person-couple-love-romantic.jpg

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:

4E248176-9873-4ABE-8485-C66FABA313EC

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.