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

Mo Willems might be my hero.

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A children’s book can give you a glimpse into your deepest soul. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye.

I remember the first time my son brought home Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems from the school library. I loved reading to my kids, but I really never connected with Pigeon. Why he was so popular with my kids, I never really knew. I loved the Frances books, anything by Rosemary Wells, and when they started bringing home little beginning readers like Henry and Mudge, I was in seventh heaven!

But the Pigeon? Every time one of my kids brought one of those home, I just rolled my eyes.

Turns out I missed the point. Pigeon is much deeper and much more shallow at the same time. He’s a philosopher and a spoiled child wrapped into one, which is kind of how I see myself. Maybe I just didn’t like seeing myself on the pages of a children’s book?

How do I know all this about Pigeon? I read an interview with his creator. Check it out here: Mo Willems Interview. (My thanks to my friend Liz for referring me to this article!)

Mo Willems’s admittedly incredible ability to look into my soul and pull a pigeon out of it notwithstanding, he says some very insightful things about the nature of art and creativity and writing. “Books are sculptures” is indeed one of them. What took me most by surprise, though, was the revelation that he’s not just writing to inspire kids. He’s writing to inspire the parents to do and say and live the way they want their kids to do and say and live.

Consider this: “[W}e constantly hear, ‘Our children are the future,’ but we seldom say, ‘Hey we’re the present and it’s incumbent on us to be present.’ So there’s this silliness, but there’s also a, ‘You can do it, too.'”

Thank you, Mo Willems!

I’m 49 years old. I’ve just published my first children’s book (Jessica Entirely by Shelley Gee). I also privately published my first collection of poetry Times and Ties. I’m taking singing lessons and auditioning for plays. I’m inspired by my kids, and my only regret right now is that I’ve never done any of these things before. I didn’t model my life by living my dreams. If anything, they’ve modeled for me by bringing home books for me to read that I wouldn’t normally have read, and introducing me to movies and television and a slew of pets I never would have chosen to bring into my life.

So I’ll presume to add a little to Mr. Willems’s statements. Be inspiring to your children, but don’t be afraid to be inspired by them, too. A family circle is beneficial to all.

Something I wrote:

Jessica smiled in spite of her worries about her friends. They all had friends in town and friends who evacuated and friends who might have lost their homes in the storm. But she had her family right there with her and the idea of helping made her feel much better about things in general. She took a deep breath and followed her family to the kitchen, happier than she ever had been at the prospect of spending an hour or two with them at the table.

I agree with Mr. Mueller: The written word is more powerful than the spoken one.

scribbles on wall

Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

Today I watched a historic speech given by a great man. Former Special Counsel on the Russia investigation Robert Mueller finally gave us his two cents worth in a speech. And he basically said what he had already written was worth much more.

He’s right. He said: “I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work, but beyond these few remarks, it is important the office’s written work speak for itself.” In other words, I’m outlining a few points here, but this is basically a book report. Read the book if you want to know what happens.

Later on, he added: “We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.”

Have you ever noticed that when you’re speaking, you might say anything, but when you write it down, you think about it? If you haven’t, you probably don’t write much. Maybe you’re one of those who can write themselves into a corner on a birthday card. But if you write reports of any sort, if you write news stories or blog posts or books, you think about the impact of each word on your reader. And you think about the impact you want to make on your reader.

The written word has a power that the spoken word does not, and it also has a permanence the spoken word usually lacks. I believe Robert Mueller’s words will live on, both in spoken and written form. I also believe it’s time to pay attention to what he has already told us. And have the courage to act accordingly.

I’m editing this to add one more thought. Mr. Mueller’s written words are there for history. If Congress does not act on these words, history will judge them accordingly.

Cover Reveal: Timeless! (Finally)

Drum roll, please…Ta…DAAA!

Yes, that is the cover for the final book of my Synchronicity series, Timeless. And yes, it does have a unicorn on it! As all my best covers are, this one was designed by my talented friend Farah Evers of Farah Evers Designs, and I gave her a tough task, asking her to make a non-dorky cover with a unicorn on it. 🙂 (Sorry to all you unicorn fans out there, but…) As you can see, she rose to the challenge magnificently!

This one has been a long time coming. I started writing this trilogy in 2015, and Out of Time was published in 2016. I followed it up with Time Being in 2017. And now, finally, I’m ready to release Timeless. These worlds I invented and the portals between them have been fun to travel. Steeped in the legends of the Cherokee (T’sali) people of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up, I feel like, more than any of my other books, these have a bit of my soul in them. I mean, what little girl doesn’t dream of finding out she’s a princess from a faraway land?

I’ve enjoyed my time in Eladi/Ayeli/Gadusi, consorting with Elves and Meti as well as humans, but I am ready, now, to let it go. So, on June 1, 2019, you can find out how it all ends. For those who have followed this story, the Raven Mocker does make another appearance, and yes, there really is a unicorn.

And if you haven’t followed the story? I’ve slashed the prices on the first two ebooks, Out of Time and Time Being, to 99 cents! (Come on, Disney/Marvel didn’t make you that good a deal and you still went to see End Game!) Don’t get left behind. Be ready for the end of this epic story on June 1!

Jack and Kaelyn have battled an army and realigned space and time to be together. But their greatest challenge yet looms, and it’s from Kaelyn’s own people. 

The joyous reunion with Todd and the Ayeli Meti should bring peace to all they love, but instead Kaelyn discovers a dark underbelly of prejudice. The Ayeli Meti have not forgotten the war with the Elves, and it takes very little to push them over the edge. Now Kaelyn must decide between love and duty.

Trapped on Ayeli, can she overcome the lingering anger against Elves? And can Jack defeat his father on the lost world of Gadusi, making it safe to reopen the portals? Most important, can Kaelyn and Jack find their way back to each other through the locked portals—or are they doomed to spend eternity alone?

Facebook storytelling: I’m fine, and you?

I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook about how nobody believes your Facebook posts about your perfect family, so why don’t you just tell the truth?

LOL.

Truth is not really what Facebook is for. It never has been. Facebook started out being a sort of public bragbook for friends you never see. Remember those things? I made them after all my kids’ births to carry around in my purse and show to my friends—see how cute my kids are? Of course, that was before the camera phone. Now I can whip out my phone and show you my last vacation, my new puppy, my car, my son’s graduation, a video of my daughter singing, my other son’s last basketball game—you get the picture.

My point is, Facebook is the equivalent of saying “just fine and you” when someone asks how you are. I mean, if I answered that question honestly every day, I’d get some pretty peculiar looks. A couple of times I’ve gotten some glimpses into acquaintances real lives on Facebook. Every single time, someone closer than me to that person starts begging them to stop putting family stuff on Facebook.

In our hearts, we know everyone we know doesn’t have a perfect life and family. Marriages are in trouble, kids have problems, people make mistakes they can’t take back. Friends and family pass away, we fail each other, we fail ourselves, we neglect the world around us. Life sucks sometimes and all we can do is survive.

I’m fine. How are you?

Hidden room dream: Getting older, getting busy again, getting to know who I am

Yesterday, I had to admit—at long last—that I just can’t see my computer screen as well when I wear contacts. So I pulled out an old pair of reading glasses I once used for a Halloween costume. In spite of myself, I was hoping they wouldn’t work.

They did.

Here’s me seeing my computer screen clearly without squinting. So I’m getting older. Better than the alternative, I always say.

Today I find myself in a quandary in spite of my new ability to see clearly. I want to write again, but I’m unsure what to write. I’ve been in stasis mode for a few weeks, though, you see, so it’s harder than I anticipated jumping back into the pool of work. I usually get anxious if I’m not writing something, but I’m surprisingly calm about it this time. And I think I can attribute that to the hidden room dreams.

If you’ve never had hidden room dreams, let me tell you, they’re a trip. For me, I was always wandering through our extraordinarily cluttered house (it was worse in the dream than in reality) only to find a door I opened to reveal rooms I never knew my house possessed. These rooms were always furnished, as though ready for use, but in my dreams I always realized it would take some work to make them functional.

I had this dream often enough so I looked it up online. Hidden room dreams, I found, were an indication that there’s some talent or ability hidden in our psyche that we aren’t making use of. Interesting, considering I started having these dreams right after my first foray into community theater. If ever there was someone you wouldn’t have thought suitable for the stage, it is probably me. I have a definite fear of public speaking. I remember nearly fainting in high school when I had to give a three-minute speech. Just a few years ago, I attempted to conduct a few writing workshops, and, well, they weren’t bad, but they weren’t what I would call good, either.

But theater is different. You’re somebody else, from the makeup (I never wear eyeliner except onstage) to the clothing (ah, those sumptuous nineteenth century dresses I wore!) to the words (speeches I would never have made on my own). Okay, I’ve only had bit parts so far, but in one play I did have more than a dozen lines!

And now, here I am, having just finished directing (and writing, at least a little bit) my daughter’s talent show, taking singing lessons in preparation for auditioning for another musical—and no longer haunted by hidden room dreams. Is it possible my hidden rooms were theater-related all along? Maybe the “clutter” in my dreams was my desire to tell stories, that I’ve always restricted to the arena of writing. If I move it into theater as well, I’ll have another outlet and more room in both parts of my psyche.

But never fear, I’m not giving up on my writing, either. Jessica Entirely, the first of my middle grade Jessica mysteries, will be ready for publication in June. I’m now working on the polishing of Timeless, the final book of my Synchronicity series. And Magic at Sea, book 7 of Sleight of Hand, should be ready for an October 31 release! Plus, I’ve already started planning Jessica Naturally, which I’m hoping to have out by Christmas.

So even as I explore these hidden rooms and try to dust them off so they’ll be functional, I’m adding to the clutter on the other side of my psyche. Can’t be helped, though. I guess I’ll just have to add more shelves over there!

Poem: In Her Prime

I have a particular affinity for daffodils. I’ve taken dozens of pictures of them this spring alone. They’re almost done here, but I found this lovely this morning, and it seemed like a special gift to me. So I wrote a poem about her.

In Her Prime

By Michelle Garren Flye

A little wrinkled,

She holds up her bobbing head.

Not done yet, she says.

Author’s Note: Happy shared birthday, RBG. Sometimes wrinkles make you stronger.